Current Weather
The Spy FM

‘Death And After In Iraq’: Memoir Of A Mortuary

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
June 21, 2011

Right after she graduated from high school in 2001, Jess Goodell enlisted in the Marine Corps as a mechanic. She was stationed in Okinawa, Japan — but she wanted to go to Iraq. “I felt a pressure both from my peers and from within that in order to be a real marine, I needed to go to Iraq,” Goodell says Fresh Air’s Terry Gross.

So in 2004, when the Marine Corps’ Mortuary Affairs unit in Iraq was recruiting, she volunteered immediately. Her platoon was tasked with recovering and processing the remains of fallen troops. In her new memoir, Shade it Black: Death and After in Iraq, Goodell shares her experiences in the Mortuary Affairs unit and explains why her job never got easier with time or proficiency.

While she readily volunteered for her post, Goodell says she didn’t really understand the reality of what she was getting herself into — and no amount of training could have prepared her for the job. She knew she wanted to go to Iraq — and that the Marines already had all the mechanics they needed there. “[The platoon sergeant in Okinawa] said if you want to go to Iraq, you need to volunteer for a different position,” Goodell recalls. When he said the Mortuary Affairs platoon was recruiting, “my hand shot up in the air. A couple of marines kind of casually, nonchalantly said, ‘Goodell that’s gonna be tough,’ but I had no idea.”

In the Mortuary Affairs unit, one of Goodell’s responsibilities was to sort through the pockets and belongings of troops lost in combat. She found all sorts of things — crumpled up napkins, pictures, spoons, letters, even sonograms of their soon to be born children.

Goodell says that one of the most difficult parts of the job was diagramming the body outlines of the deceased. On the body diagram, she would document identifying marks such as scars, tattoos and birthmarks. If a body part was missing or not found, Goodell was instructed to shade that part of the diagram black.

The job stayed with Goodell day and night during her time in Iraq. “I don’t think I ever stopped smelling death when I was in Iraq,” she says. “Part of the reason that the smell seemed to linger was … being a Marine in Iraq at that time, laundry services only occurred every couple of weeks, so even if we were careful and very clean in the bunker, the smell just seemed to cling to us. It seemed to cling to our uniforms. And at least for me, once I smelled that smell of death, I just couldn’t stop smelling it.”

After she returned home, Goodell faced a new set of problems. Like many soldiers, she struggled to return to civilian life after her time in Iraq. Goodell says she plans to use her experiences to assist veterans with post traumatic stress disorder. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

One Response to “‘Death And After In Iraq’: Memoir Of A Mortuary”

  1. pat says:

    I am so proud of Jess. She did something that needed to be done and that deserves so much more than thanks..

    I enjoyed her story on Fresh Air-thanks Terry

Leave a Reply

5AM to 9AM Morning Edition

Morning Edition

For more than two decades, NPR's Morning Edition has prepared listeners for the day ahead with two hours of up-to-the-minute news, background analysis, commentary, and coverage of arts and sports.

Listen Live Now!

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

View the program guide!

10AM to 11PM On Point

On Point

On Point unites distinct and provocative voices with passionate discussion as it confronts the stories that are at the center of what is important in the world today. Leaving no perspective unchallenged, On Point digs past the surface and into the core of a subject, exposing each of its real world implications.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center