Return to Jeddah
Marine Embassy Guard Detachment - Jeddah, Saudi Arabia 2011
Before returning to Jeddah, to that infamous city on the Red Sea, I feared my consciousness would be violently pulled back to the attack of 2004 and trapped there. I had written about the attack, the place, the people, but ultimately I had written in the safety of the majestic Boston Library at Copley Square. Hours before the flight, I resigned myself to a colder, more detached recess of my mind. It was a familiar place and feeling. Maybe here my memories won’t sting as much, I thought.
Then the story unfolded in a drastically different way than my fears had foretold. The plane landed, bathed in the golden sunlight of daybreak. Shortly after, I arrived at the U.S. Consulate and found it had grown a few extra walls, gates, and security personnel. And where the scorched remains of my old home once lay scattered, a tropical peach colored house sat peacefully in the middle of a grassy oasis. It was an alternate reality that I welcomed.
That same day I heard the terrifying sound of the “Duck and Cover” alarm, but this time it was only a training drill. No one was shooting. No one was dying. The Marines performed their parts in the practice run with skill. The Regional Security Officer, a Marine, was fully present and professional. The newly minted, well-trained local guards were on point and ready for a fight. Some of these guards had survived our shared trauma and I was impressed to see they were still ready to defend their American family. I fell asleep that first night with a sense of safety I thought I had lost forever.
Then I struggled for two days to find the words I wanted to share at the Marine Corps Ball.
By the night of the ball, I more fully understood the central piece of my experience returning to Jeddah. For seven years, I had not truly left that place or my duty as the Marine Embassy Guard on Post One. Yet, as I looked out at the five Marines currently watching over the diplomatic mission, I knew I could finally leave post. These Marines would keep the consulate community safe. I did not doubt their vigilance or commitment to duty. I was free.
My return to Jeddah did not trap me; my memories did not overwhelm me. The survivors of that terrible day, the heroes past and present, liberated me with their acceptance. The Marines offered me peace of mind by carrying on our legacy. And I am comforted in the knowledge that the story of Jeddah lives on in the memories of every Marine Embassy Guard. It is no longer just my story, but our story.