Oral history: Every deployment ‘shapes and changes your life,’ Marine says
Nick Lopez will do just about anything for an old Marine Corps buddy — even talking about wartime experiences he’d rather forget.
So when a former sergeant looking for veterans to interview as part of an oral-history project at the University of Utah called, Lopez agreed to tell his story, which spans more than 25 years, from his enlistment in the Marines in 1984 to his retirement as a sergeant major in 2010.
It includes combat deployments in the Persian Gulf and training operations around the world in locales such as Israel, Norway and Ukraine.
But the Sandy, Utah, man’s history also touches on the births of his children, on a painful divorce, on the deaths of friends and fellow servicemen, and even on complaints about day-to-day military operations.
“I think every deployment shapes and changes your life,” Lopez said. “Either for good or bad, sometimes both.”
He has shared his story with the American West Center’s oral history project at the University of Utah.
Lopez has plenty of great times he hopes to remember such as “skit nights” where young Marines would dress up and impersonate senior officers, or “Speckled Jim,” his unit’s chemical-detection pigeon who became their mascot despite his propensity for escaping.
He also reflects on forging a superior officer’s signature to get 97 cots for his Marines so they would not have to sleep on the hot Kuwaiti tarmac during Operation Desert Shield. That defense action was welcomed with flowers, candy and kindness by grateful Iraqis on the way into Baghdad in 2003.
The darker times are important, too, even though Lopez would rather not remember them. Civilians often have no idea what day-to-day life is like during combat, he said, and personal histories can give at least one perspective of what war truly is.
Lopez remembers seeing a woman and her two children trying to flee a Hummer convoy whose drivers could not see the family in a swirling dust storm. He remembers injured troops crushed by tanks. He remembers body parts littering villages. Images like those have seared themselves in his mind, despite dealing with horrific accidents in his daily work as a firefighter for Salt Lake City.
He vividly remembers collecting the personal effects of a Marine who drowned after accidentally driving off the end of a pier. Lopez found a half-finished love letter to his young wife in the man’s front pocket.
Lopez has considered creating a scrapbook or journal for his children, but an oral history was much easier, he said. He likes that the history will be available online at www.awc.utah.edu and in the special collections at the University of Utah’s Marriott Library.
Lopez knows that someday his children, including a son who just deployed to Kuwait, will want to know what role their father played in famous, and not-so-famous, historical events.
“History’s important,” Lopez said. “I think everybody’s part of it, however little it may be.”