By Paul A. Anthony, Editor in Chief
The war is over in Iraq, but not for David Leeson.
The ACU alumnus and Dallas Morning News photographer spent exactly six weeks embedded with American troops as they fought to overthrow Saddam Hussein, and the images are not quickly going away.
“There are the iconic images you hope you’ve made for the public,” Leeson said from his Dallas home Tuesday morning. “And there are the images you see in your dreams-or should I say nightmares.”
Leeson, class of 1978, was one of two alumni who were embedded. The other, Chris Anderson, class of 1992, has returned home to Paris, France, his father, Lynn, said. Anderson, however, was not available for comment.
After every war comes the readjustment to normal life, said the man who has photographed 11 wars for The News and other publications.
“One war is like unto another,” said Leeson, relying upon biblical phrasing for the comparison. “There are images in your head that God didn’t intend for any man to see.”
Leeson’s company-task force 269 of the Third Infantry Division of the U.S. Army-was at the front of the American drive. It was first in An Nasiriyah, the city that just hours later became a major battleground where the United States suffered its first major casualties, and it was first into northern Baghdad, where Leeson said Iraqis fought for more than six hours.
“In northern Baghdad, it was war as I’d never seen war,” he said.
Leeson’s was the seventh vehicle in the task force convoy, meaning he could see the very front of the entire U.S. ground forces at times. Several times, he said, he came under artillery fire that landed so close, life and death depended on a matter of inches.
“The artillery never seemed that realistic” at first, Leeson said. “It was too far away. Whenever it lands close enough where it could completely wipe you out, that gets your attention.”
His safe return was a relief for Leeson’s wife, Kim Ritzenthaler, also a Morning News photographer.
“I still keep looking at him sometimes, and I can’t believe he’s back home,” she said.
Leeson said he’s glad to be back, but that it takes some readjusting, a process he said happens to everyone who returns home from war.
Sometimes, he said, he lapses back into a state in which he frequently found himself immediately after his return: staring blankly, lapsing into himself and “unpacking” his thoughts and memories from Iraq.
“It’s wonderful to come home, but it’s also terrible,” Leeson said. “Think about any trip you’ve ever taken where you’ve got luggage, only now you’ve brought back some souvenirs. You come home, and you’re like, ‘Where do I put those things?'”
Leeson left for Iraq March 9 and returned Wednesday to end his “suffering,” as he jokingly put it.
“There’s the easy way” to describe the war, Leeson said. “War is hell-and it was hell.”