On Veterans Day this week, Robert O’Neill spoke about shooting Usama Bin Laden and the mission behind it. O’Neill relayed his story to Peter Doocy of the Fox News Channel.
Hearing O’Neill’s story reminded me of an ethical choice made by Sergeant Joseph Bills, who came face to face with the remains of Saddam Hussein after his execution through the Iraqi judicial system. Though tempted to snap a photo of Hussein, Sergeant Bills made a different decision.
Discover what he did in this this excerpt from, Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq and Afghanistan, a book I co-authored with Jocelyn Green and John Croushorn.
“SERGEANT BILLS, grab the chaplain, let’s go.” It was 6 PM on December 30, 2006. My colonel seemed urgent to get on the helicopter— but then, we considered all Hero Missions urgent, so I didn’t think much about it. I just moved. Hero Missions were the name of helicopter missions deployed to recover the remains of Americans killed in action in Iraq.
“We have to go now,” he said again. We flew in two different birds to Baghdad in case anything should happen to one of them.
After landing on one of small bases there, I noticed secret service men walking around. Okay, what’s going on? I wondered.
I soon learned that the remains we were about to collect were not those of a hero at all. We were picking up the remains of Saddam Hussein, hanged that morning, and to be delivered back to his hometown of Tikrit. We got the mission because we transfer remains, and we were in charge of the north where Tikrit is.
The officials in Baghdad had wanted to bury him in an unmarked grave there in Baghdad and keep its location a secret. But his family was there, pleading with them to be able to take the body home for a burial. After eight hours, the officials gave in.
Finally, around 11 PM, we were ready to go. The family wanted to verify the identity of the body, so they unzipped the body bag. We all stood around staring into that face. Here was the dictator that had so oppressed his people. Here was the tyrant America had spent years fighting.
At least, here was his body.
The magnitude of the scene was not lost on me—I wanted to somehow document the moment, but snapping a picture of his body was out of the question.
Instead, once we were back in the helicopter, I took a picture of myself just to capture the date and time. It may look like an ordinary picture to anyone else, but when I see it, I’ll always remember—that was the moment after I had seen the face of evil, and had seen that he had met justice once and for all.