Shadow of the Sword: A Marine's Journey of War, Heroism, and Redemption

Shadow of the Sword: A Marine's Journey of War, Heroism, and Redemption

by John Bruning


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Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Workman is one of the Marine Corps’s best-known contemporary combat veterans. In this searing and inspiring memoir, he tells an unforgettable story of his service overseas—and of the emotional wars that continue long after fighting soldiers come home.

In the Iraqi city of Fallujah in December 2004, Workman faced the challenge that would change his life. He and his platoon came upon a building in which insurgents had trapped their fellow Marines. Leading repeated assaults on that building, Workman killed more than twenty of the enemy in a firefight that left three of his own men dead.

But Workman’s most difficult fight lay ahead, in the battlefield of his mind. He returned stateside, was awarded the Navy Cross for gallantry under fire, and was then assigned to the Marine base at Parris Island as a drill instructor. Haunted by the thought that he had failed his men overseas, Workman suffered a psychological breakdown in front of the soldiers he was charged with preparing for war.

In Shadow of the Sword, a memoir that brilliantly captures both wartime courage and its lifelong consequences, Workman candidly reveals the ordeal of post-traumatic stress.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345512123
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/15/2009
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 6.38(w) x 9.74(h) x 1.09(d)

About the Author

Jeremiah Workman is a military service coordinator with the Department of Veteran Affairs. John R. Bruning is the author or coauthor of ten books, including How to Break a Terrorist and Bombs Away!: The World War II Bombing Campaigns over Europe. Carlton W. Kent served as the sixteenth Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One 

Spring 2006 
Parris Island , S . C .

The dream was bad, the worst in weeks. The ceiling comes into focus. I blink the sleep out of my eyes. My heart races, sweat stains my sheets. I’m burning up. Every morning, it is always the same. I remember everything. Every move, every unearthly sensation and disorienting noise. It is the most vivid dream I’ve ever had, and I have it night after night after night. 

A year ago, when the nightmare first invaded my sleep, I drowned it in liquor. At the time my unit, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, or 3/5, was stationed at Camp Pendleton in Southern California. One night, I wandered into a tavern called The Harp in Newport Beach. On one wall rested a plaque commemorating the achievements of 3/5. Right then, I knew I had my watering hole. In the first month after I got back from leave, I ran up a three- thousand- dollar tab at The Harp. 

I discovered that Jack Daniel’s did what nothing else could. I’d drink until I passed out, and in that darkness the nightmares and memories could not find me. Every morning, I’d peel my eyes open, unsure of who I was or where I’d ended up. Self- awareness only gradually penetrated the crushing hangover. I didn’t mind that; it gave me time to slip into myself and prepare for the shock of who I’d become. By noon, I’d be up and about, focused only on that night’s binge, longing for its numb sanctuary. 

Not anymore, not for the last five months. That’s when I started drill instructor school and had to devote everything I had left to graduate. Ever since I was a raw recruit, I’d wanted to be a drill instructor. 

A year removed from my tour in Iraq, I fulfilled that dream and graduated tenth in a class of sixty. Be careful what you wish for. That cliché has become the story of my life. 

I’ve always been an achiever. Varsity football, baseball, and wrestling back home in Ohio taught me to compete without reservation. I came of age in a tiny town of about twenty- five hundred people called Richwood, where Tractor Days was the year’s biggest event. 

My friends and neighbors all hailed from hardworking, blue- collar stock; the kind of Americans who have quietly held this country together generation after generation. They aren’t revered as they should be anymore, and the blue- blood Eastern city folk look down their noses at us Red- Staters, but the fact is, the heart of America beats in towns like Richwood, whether the elites want to admit it or not. We lived a sort of Varsity Blues existence in our little town. Football games dominated the fall weekends, baseball dominated the spring. In between, there were school dances, Saturday- night dates, and cruising after we got our driver’s licenses. 

I had come to Richwood after living in Marion, Ohio, until seventh grade. When I was six, my parents divorced. Dad moved to Richwood, Mom stayed in Marion and remarried a man I came to despise. When I could, I escaped to live with my dad, who worked in a local steel mill. I was the new kid in a town of less than a thousand surrounded by corn and wheat fields. Everyone knew everyone’s business. I dropped in from what folks considered a big city—Marion’s population is about 40,000—and was instantly put on probation by my peers. Where would I fit in? Would I be an outcast? 

I threw myself into sports, and my football and baseball skills gained me acceptance. Soon everyone knew my name, and I could walk downtown after a Friday- night game and receive backslaps and attaboys from people who months before were total strangers. 

I’d never been accepted before, so the attention just fueled my desire to excel, do better, grow faster and stronger. I didn’t mind the hard work that that required. I didn’t mind pushing myself to exceed, and I always had the drive to achieve my goals. 

That’s why I became a Marine. The Corps harnessed that drive in me and let me explore it in ways college never could have. I finished boot camp, endured Iraq, and came home to graduate from DI school and from Swim School a few weeks later. The latter is the second toughest school Marines can attend. For me, it was the aquatic equivalent of the Bataan Death March. 

It started with three weeks of conditioning. I thought after drill instructor’s school that I was in the best shape of my life. I’ve always been lean and muscular. In high school I was an all- conference running back until I broke a collarbone and suffered a knee injury. Swim School knocked all the arrogance out of me. We started with a sevenhundred- meter swim. That’s almost a kilometer. It nearly killed me, and I thought I was a good swimmer. 

They made us tread water while holding bricks. We dragged them across the pool again and again, the instructors pushing us like nobody had ever done. From four to midnight every day we tortured our bodies in the huge pool at Parris Island. By week four, I could hardly bring myself to continue. Instead, I’d sit in my pickup truck in front of my apartment and will myself to go through with another night of agony. In slow motion, I’d see my hand turning the key. Twenty minutes later, I’d be in the pool wondering if they’d let me drown as all the gear kept pulling me under. Every night for six weeks, I’d flail my way to the side and puke in the scum gutter that skirted the pool. 

It was the toughest thing I’ve ever endured. Well, next to Fallujah. That’s why I love the Corps—there is always a new challenge awaiting those with the desire to push a little harder. 

I slide out of my rack. When I hit the floor, I feel clammy and off. I haven’t felt right in months. Now that the booze remains in the bottle, the memories and nightmares plague me every night. What little rest I get is always interrupted. 

Beside the bed, I stretch and yawn. A typical morning routine, but the engine’s not firing. Something’s missing. 

Hope. Faith. 

Oh yeah. The realization wipes out the last of my sleepy grogginess. I shamble over to the bathroom sink and find my razor. Water running, I start to lather up. 

My eyes focus on the sink. I know I’ll have to look into the mirror, but I avoid it as long as I can. I dread this time. I cannot hide from myself. In my reflection, there is no escape. 

My eyes flick up. I stare at a gaunt and haggard face that could once have been mine. It looks sunken, like my cheekbones are about to cave in. 

I’ve lost so much weight my ribs are visible. 

Were you a prisoner of war? 

No. I am a veteran of close- quarters combat. I fought. I survived. At Fallujah. 

Guilty as charged: I survived. 

I make eye contact with my reflection. Eyes are a window to the soul, right? I see nothing. It scares me. I want to avert my gaze, but I’m frozen in place. 

Why are you still alive? 

I can’t answer my reflection. It is the shell of what I once was. The jawline is still the same, my hair color hasn’t changed. The remnants are there, visible to those who really knew it. My mother. My wife Jessica. Her folks. They once looked upon my face with love and endearment. So did the people in my small town. I was the star running back for our high school football team. I was somebody once. 

This new face is different. What I have left only inspires fear. Those vestiges of the past I see in the mirror serve now as a cruel reminder of all I’ve lost. 

You should be dead, Jeremiah. 

I want to pick up the razor and shave. I want to get through this morning ritual of hate. 

You should be dead. 

My reflection is right. I should be. I wanted death. I yearned for it. Why are you still here? 

I can only say, “I have every right to be here.” 

Three dead Marines. That’s what I see every time I dare to look into my eyes. 

I wanted to be with them. That house in Sector 19 should have been my tomb. Now I live on in limbo, cheated of my destiny. I did not leave the fight willingly. They dragged me out of it screaming. There was killing left undone, vengeance unsecured. I yearn for a reckoning that will never be made. 

You didn’t deserve to live. 

My reflection pulls no punches. I drop my eyes. I can’t bear to look at myself any longer.

I take a long breath. The air is stale and I smell my own sweat. Another breath. Exhale. Breathe. Calm down. 

I am here. At least, what’s left of me is here. The best of me was burned away inside that house, lost forever on December 23rd, the last firefight American forces would fight in that shattered city during the Second Battle of Fallujah. 

The memories flicker by like reels on a slot machine. Nothing makes sense. 

Then I see Phillip Levine, bloody and shocked, shouting for a pistol. For a moment it seems so real that I want to reach out for him. I’ve never seen a man do what he did that day. 

I open my eyes as gunfire echoes around me. A moment later, the vision of my best friend passes and my bathroom is salved with silence. I’m left staring at little icebergs of shaving cream afloat in an overflowing sink. 

What made you worth saving? 

My reflection taunts me. 

“I don’t know,” I manage as I look up into the mirror. 

I stare into the eyes of three dead Marines. 

“I’m so sorry,” I say. 

There is no forgiveness in their eyes. 

Table of Contents

Foreword by Sergeant Major Carlton W. Kent
Prologue: Stairwell to Nowhere
Chapter 1 - Reflection of the Damned
Chapter 2 - The Man without a Face
Chapter 3 - Mop-Up Crew
Chapter 4 - Diagnosis
Chapter 5 - A Mind at War
Chapter 6 - Beaufort
Chapter 7 - Drug Trip
Chapter 8 - The Last Medal
Chapter 9 - Ten-Step Kill Zone
Chapter 10 - Break Contact
Chapter 11 - Link by Link
Chapter 12 - Disconnect
Chapter 13 - Eight-Thousand-Mile Sniper Shot
Chapter 14 - The Ghost of Ira Hayes
Chapter 15 - A Moment in the Trough
Chapter 16 - Lost Moment
Chapter 17 - Return to the Island
Chapter 18 - Brothers
Chapter 19 - Bleeding Love
Chapter 20 - The Dark Side of the Brotherhood
Chapter 21 - The Wrong Fight
Chapter 22 - Bootstraps
Chapter 23 - Scorched Earth
Chapter 24 - Human Bomb
Chapter 25 - Field-Grade Hero
Chapter 26 - Obliteration
Chapter 27 - Craterscape
Chapter 28 - Battlefield Requiem
Chapter 29 - October Dawn
Chapter 30 - Reconstruction
Chapter 31 - Generations
Chapter 32 - Setbacks
Chapter 33 - No Higher Honor
Chapter 34 - February 21, 2007
Epilogue: The Shadow War
Final Notes: Fall 2008

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Shadow of the Sword: A Marine's Journey of War, Heroism, and Redemption 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
PTSD is very real problem for our service men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Jeremiah Workman's story is one that I would recommend for every family member and serviceman returning from war. His story tells of the horror of war, the struggle of living with PTSD, and the courage to get help and survive. This book has been a tremendous help for me to understand what my son must have been going through when he returned from Iraq. He would not get help and eventually committed suicide. I thank Jeremiah for sharing his story as I am sure there are many others like me who have or had family members or friends, who are coping with the manifestations of PTSD. May it give those who are suffering from PTSD the courage and strength to get help and survive.
Unkletom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
`Shadow of the Sword' is a powerful and timely story that focuses on a Marine's battle with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The aptly named story toggles back and forth between the experiences of Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Workman, a recipient of the Navy Cross and nominee for the Congressional Medal of Honor, during the battle for Fallujah and his life and difficulties he faced upon returning stateside. This is a must-read book for anyone who even thinks that he or she may be experiencing PTSD symptoms. SSgt. Workman's stark prose and first-person delivery beautifully expresses the unceasing razor's edge tension of life in combat and the bleak and colorless sense of disassociation that most veterans feel upon returning home. I would compare 'Shadow of the Sword' to the movie 'The Hurt Locker' as masterful portrayals of an American warrior's life in Iraq except that the events described in SSgt. Workman's book are not fiction. Perhaps the most valuable point made in 'Shadow of the Sword' is to what degree SSgt. Workman stresses how the very elements that make American Soldiers and Marines such effective fighters serve to work against them when it comes to PTSD. Every step of their training is geared toward teaching them to unflinchingly endure the most stressful and grueling hardships. Wounds are to be shrugged off and any hint that combat experiences could have an affect on behavior is denied outright for to accept that notion is to admit weakness and weakness is failure. Despite his awards for bravery and unquestioned valor, Workman could not bring himself to feel anything but shame and guilt for his actions under fire. When a man such as he can openly discuss his experiences, the demons he battled and the wounds he suffered in his nation's service we can only hope that others will understand the truth of what is happening to them and reach out for the help they need and deserve. Before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq the government estimated that it would be treating 8,000 military personnel for PTSD. In 2007 the RAND Corporation reported that 700,000 combat veterans either have sought treatment or are likely to in the future. Swamped by this unexpected deluge of cases and its attendant backlog, the VA was reported 1,000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans seen in its facilities. This statistic is especially sobering since RAND estimates that less than 40% with PTSD even seek treatment. As a grateful nation we honor the sacrifices of these men and women. When these wars are over we want them home with us fully functioning and able to enjoy the peace that they helped create. Before they can, though, many will need our help to come out from the shadow of the sword and leave the ghosts of war behind them.
Altarasabine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The true account of Marine Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Workman's time in Northern Fallujah Iraq and the impact it made on his life afterwards. Vividly describes the stark reality of the stress of war on an individual. Brings to light the startling facts of Post Traumatic Stress disorder, how it invades ones mind changing who they are, and the internal battle to learn to cope and go on each day. Honors the memory of those lost and the stories of those who survived. Did not care for the structure and order in which the information was given. I do recommend that anyone who has a loved one in the military read this book to gain a better understanding of what our fighting men and women are enduring and for anyone who suffers from PTSD to be able to recognize that you are not alone and that there is help that can help you pull through
hermit on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the second book on PTSD by a US Marine from the Iraq War I have recently read. PTSD, which stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a term used after Vietnam, and also use to be called Battle Fatigue after World War II or Combat Stress now in Iraq, can be a lasting and severe form of stress for anyone who has experience extreme degrees of trauma. This is a fast read by Navy Cross recipient Sgt. Jeremiah Workman and is co-written with John R. Bruning. As we read this book we follow an active duty Marine who has returned to the U.S.A. after combat duty in Iraq where his life is altered because of the trauma of combat he lived through.I feel reading this book that Sgt. Workman honestly relates the details of his home life and military career and how the PTSD starts to affect them both. As you continue to read we learn that the cause of the trauma for Sgt. Workman is caused by a single horrific day of combat he cannot put out of his mind. It is a sad fact that many military personnel will try and hide the fact they are suffering from this trauma because of the perceived stigma attached to it and the affect it will have on their military career.We learn this event for Sgt. Workman was a brutal time experienced one day while clearing a block in Fallujah where a fierce firefight broke out. Through flashbacks and dreams the details of the firefight are fleshed out and brought to life. His insightful telling of his memory of that day of urban combat haunts him and affects his daily life. The memory of this event and how he interrupts what he did or did not do is relived over and over again. The Sgt. has to learn to live and function with his damaged psyche and fight his own personal battle now that he is no longer in combat.Sgt. Workman is a hero not only for his actions in battle but also for working to make the best of his life for himself and his family. Readers of this book will have a better understanding of what combat veterans have to live with every day and should be so grateful that these men and women answer the call to that type of duty so most do not have too. I highly recommend that everyone read this book especially veterans and their families.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Should be required reading for all! This is an extreme opening of a life changed into a nightmare within a true healin hero! Not only on the battlefield but perhsps even more so within the smoke of life afterwards! The absolute best in naked reality of what life is like during and after THEY serve our country!
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TxJarhead More than 1 year ago
SSgt. Workman is a true inspiration to anyone who is proud of this country and her Warriors. Not only is this an amazing account of this heroic Marine's actions in Iraq, it is an equally chilling story of his battles at home dealing with PTSD and the loss of his friends. SSgt. Workman offers a unique view into the perspective of war and the mental make up of our men and women in uniform. This is not your typical war story, but it will leave you more touched than any war story you have ever read before. This book and SSgt. Workman's ability to finally discuss his demons have helped numerous veterans who have been dealing with their own battles. He is truly an American hero who sacrificed on the field of battle and continues to fight for his brothers and sisters yet today. SSgt. Workman, as a former Marine all I can say is, Welcome Home and Semper Fi!!! Job well done!!
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