BUMEHEN, Iran – Ejad Naderi, 45, is a veteran of Iran-Iraq War. He was exposed to Saddam Hussein’s mustard gas, whose ingredients and manufacturing technology were provided by Western countries. Hundreds of thousands of Iranian vets are still suffering from the effects of Hussein’s use of gas during the war that killed at least 500,000. Photo: Naderi with 9-month-old son, Daniel, at his home in Bumehen, Tehran Province.
Note: this story was first published in 2006.
“I spent a year at the front in the Iran-Iraq War. I came back with memories that will never leave me.
“It was a time unlike any other. Everyone was equal, from the general down to the private. And everyone was sacrificing everything.
“During the battle of Karbala 5, the largest battle we fought, we were determined to give the nation a New Year’s present. But the price we paid was enormous. Of battalions of 2,000 to 3,000 men, usually only 20 to 50 would return and they were all messed up too.
“The night before an attack they usually fed us especially well—sometimes a whole chicken per person. We’d tell each other, ‘take note; tonight we had chicken. Something’s up.’
“The Iraqis were pounding us with a powerful missile called the ‘French missile.’ It glowed red hot on approach but the glow would vanish four or five kilometers to target and then you had no idea where it would land.
“I recall one boy from Isfahan in our dugout who was afraid of the dark. A French missile hit nearby and our power generator went out.
“The Isfahani became emotional. Another guy asked him, ‘what are you going to do when you’re in a grave? It’s dark in there too.’
“The boy said, ‘I won’t be able to stand that either. My last will is that you bury me in a grave with a light inside so that I won’t be scared.’
“He had gone outside an hour later when another missile hit and it hit within a meter of our friend. I can’t describe the feeling when we found him, only that we had to bring a blanket in order to carry all the pieces.
“Another time, I saw a Toyota truck coming toward us. From far away, it was as if there was no driver. But it had such a heavy load the back was almost touching the ground.
“When it got close, I realized I couldn’t see the driver because it was a really short guy behind the wheel. And the load—it was nothing but body parts, nothing but arms, legs and heads.
“I screamed at him, ‘why didn’t you at least cover them with a blanket,’ and he said he tried but couldn’t find anything.
“The war, of course, will never let me go. I was exposed to mustard gas [used by Iraqis]. I’ve lost 10 kilograms in the last five years. I quickly lose my breath; I can’t be exposed to cold air. Normal people recover from a cold in a few days. It takes me 40 days and after Penicillin injections.
“You never know what awaits you in life. After I came back from the war, as a reward for my service, they sent me to a good school to teach. I had a bachelor’s in teaching. That’s where I met my wife. I had no relatives with me so I went to khastegari on my own. I was wearing nothing but these old, dirty clothes. I said, ‘I have nothing in the world but devotion and honesty to give to your daughter.’ Her father liked that but said it’s up to his daughter to decide and she wasn’t home at the time. So I had to go back a second time a week later.
“This was my father-in-law’s advice: ‘If you are good to each other, God will provide for all your wishes. If you are not, then the little you have will vanish too.
“He was right. Back then I spent all my time in school because there was no home to go to. Today I have several pieces of land in my children’s names. I’m still just a teacher, but my co-workers always say, ‘Mr. Naderi never lacks anything.’
“We human beings have many needs. Some needs are elementary, like food, housing—the financial part. Those have to be satisfied before we can get to self-realization.
“Perhaps 50-percent of Iranians are consumed with finances. That’s what their lives are all about until the end. We tend not to know how to enjoy life from the within.
“But there are some of us that are able to get to self-realization even when the financial needs are not satisfied. This is the definition of the fortunate person.
“What is goodness? Goodness is honesty; honesty toward oneself and toward others.
“Despite objections from some parents, I require my students to keep a daily journal so that they remember their lives, so that they exercise their minds and learn from experience.
“I had a cousin who died horribly during the early days of war. He would not retreat with the others and the Iraqis shot him in the head from a distance because they had scopes on their guns.
“He is gone forever. But I have something precious from him. One day he had come to my home while I was out. He wrote in my journal, ‘I was here. I had something to eat. I am sorry I missed you.’
“He gave away everything he had before he went to the front because I guess he had a premonition of his own end. But to me this piece of paper with his handwriting is worth more than anything else he could have left behind.”