MIAMI (CBS4) – On May 1st, 2003, then President George W. Bush walked across the deck of the aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, and declared combat victory in the war in Iraq.
“Major combat operations in Iraq have ended,” the president announced. Overhead, a banner draped across the ship’s tower declared, “Mission Accomplished.”
It was a declaration that proved to be nearly 9 years premature.
As the United States closed its combat headquarters in Iraq and lowered the flag for the last time Thursday, declaring the war officially over, a South Florida veteran recalled the “hell” of war, watching fellow Marines killed in action as he shot his rifle at the enemy and shot photos as a combat photographer.
Shane Suzuki, now a public affairs officer at the Miami Veterans hospital, recalled having no time to learn the lay of the land, before being thrust into battle.
“Our first day in the country, we took fire on patrol. We were actually getting shot at. We took heavy losses, lost a guy to a mortar round before we even got to where we were going,” Suzuki said. “I immediately learned that war is real. It’s not like in the movies. People actually get hurt and killed. There are consequences.”
Suzuki said that while he was shooting photos, shooting at the enemy and being shot at in Iraq, his first-born child was growing up without him.
“She was three months old when I left, and I came back and I had this little girl who could walk and talk. When I left, she couldn’t even roll over, and when I came home she ran to me across the airport.”
Suzuki said there were memories from the war that took time to shake – or at least cope with.
“When I came back, I had some nightmares,” he said. It was a while before normal things became normal again.
“I was at the store with my daughter, and lightning went off over the store. I thought something had happened, and I dove to the ground.”
Suzuki said he has adjusted back to a life of work and family, but that “many thousands” of his fellow Marines and soldiers continue to struggle with wounds both physical and mental.
“Thankfully, we are coming to recognize the extent of it and there is help available, we are dealing with it.”
The former Marine, now a father of two, said he sometimes questions the purpose of the war that President Bush urged be waged because Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found.
“I wish there would have been a more concrete goal,” Suzuki said, but added that he believes “the Iraqi people are better off” for the United States having freed them from dictator rule.
“I’m proud of what I was a part of, and I’m proud of the people I served with,” Suzuki said. “I’m really, really glad that everybody is coming home.”