Get to know Grand Rapids (and the world)

John K., pizza cook

John is often quiet at work. He’s often head down, doing his duty and more.

He’ll mumble occasionally, then he’ll crack a joke — funny jokes too, often unexpectedly.

He wears tattered jeans and white, generic tennis shoes. He’s quite inconspicuous, most would think a standard college kid.

But he has a deep story. He’s a Marine. And spent time in the line of fire in Iraq.

I’ve been waiting to talk to him, trying to coax him open over time. And finally, I just started asking questions.

He was in the infantry, because why else would you join the Marines?

“What are you gonna tell your friends you do in the Marines?” John said. “You can’t go back and say you fixed trucks.”

He said he was told that in Iraq, 90 percent of Iraqis are hostile toward the U.S. That number is apparently way off.

He said fire fights aren’t all that scary. If it sounds like snaps, it’s close by. If it’s ricochets, you’re generally OK.

There was a sniper at one point who was a really great shot. He likely wasn’t Iraqi, or even a true insurgent; more like a hired gun, someone there for sport. He was a great shot, and had found the soft spot in American armor.

“Once he got the third guy, I got kind of worried,” John said, with a sly, uncomfortable smile.

We started talking about other subjects, like how he’d probably go back should something escalate with North Korea. He seemed to like the time he spent in South Korea, except for leading a squad of new soldiers in war drills.

“We’re launching mortars right on the DMZ,” he said. “One could accidentally go 2,000 feet into their space. It’s no wonder they can get a little upset.”

He said Australia was his favorite spot, but he’s been to any number of countries. It’s always a treat hearing military people talk about the places they’ve been and the experiences they’ve had in the area; completely different than a vacation.

They also tell you things that you never expect; things you don’t know are going on.

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