DescriptionChris Bussler (45) talks to his wife Wendy Bussler (50) about his experiences as a forward operating Mortuary Affairs Marine ("body bagger") during his service in the Marines while deployed in Iraq. He talks about struggling to deal with intense PTSD, guilt and grief when he returned, and the advice of a Vietnam vet that he write about what he was dealing with.
Subject Log / Time Code
- Chris Bussler
- Wendy Bussler
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00:01 Wendy bussler on 50 today's date of Friday, August 2nd, 2019 and Yellow Springs, Ohio
00:14 I'm here with my husband Lawrence busler ordered a collectors.
00:28 My name is Chris bussler. I am 45 today is Friday August 2nd 2019. The location is in Yellow Springs, Ohio and my interview partner is my wife Wendy. And that's his radio voice. This is my radio voice. Thank you very much.
00:47 So what do you want to start?
00:52 Do you want to talk about what you can talk about the flag? So what made you decide will I'm going to start with my second tour.
01:05 And the back the story of Paul to the beginning.
01:11 On my second tour I was at was
01:15 Attached to infantry unit and I was a reservist and so I was not used to this infantry unit.
01:25 You know, they were pretty strict and everything and I didn't know what was going on and
01:35 I got yelled at by Lieutenant first lieutenant Oscar Jimenez. I had no idea who he was.
01:44 And and
01:47 He came through and in and can arrange me a new one. And then okay, that's that's that's an officer.
01:56 And then
01:59 Time progresses on stuff we got moved up to Iraq and we were in Iraq.
02:08 I got blown up on a foot patrol.
02:12 And I was one of the very first guy to got blown up working into town called haditha.
02:19 And when I got Medevac doubt to get my surgeries.
02:24 I came back home for my convalescent leave enjoyed being here with you and then Lauren.
02:44 Being home mail back with you and Lauren and and I didn't want to pay attention to
02:50 Right, but what made you think of him?
02:56 Stop watching the news. I just wanted to pay attention to the family and stuff and it was the day that we were.
03:03 House shipping back out to go back out to California and we had stopped and ate breakfast with my mom and dad and
03:13 As we're finished, we'll walk out to the parking lot of pass by this newspaper stand that had a mural of
03:25 All the guys who had gotten killed thus far in the war on the front page and just out of curiosity. I looked at the front of the page and I started noticing a lot of people that I had knew and one of them was Oscar Jimenez.
03:44 The why he stood out against everybody else cuz he was wearing his dress blues. It was a Marine Corps ball.
03:54 Photo of photo
03:56 And everybody else is wearing camouflage utilities and
04:03 And it was it just
04:06 Struck me as wow. I know these guys.
04:11 And last time I saw them they were vibrant and they were and I couldn't is hard to believe that they were they were gone.
04:20 So I flew all the way out there to California.
04:25 And now the the barracks that I was in was starting to pile up with all these wounded guys who got wounded over in Fallujah the first push and Lucia and and they were telling me stories of all the how the guys have gotten killed and one of them, you know was in the same was right there next to to Oscar Jimenez when he had gotten killed when he got shot.
04:55 So did any share that story with me?
05:03 Fast forward
05:07 I didn't go back to Iraq. I got deactivated what back to my job is delivering mail.
05:14 And Springfield, Ohio.
05:17 And then the word came out that they're looking for volunteers to head back over for a third deployment and I was like, yes, I want to go.
05:28 And but this time I was assigned to be the lead Mortuary Affairs officer or non-commissioned officer a commissioned officer for Olive the specific area of operations, which was all taqqadum.
05:50 And so we get there and we are replacing the guys.
05:56 That were basically we were replacing them and
06:06 And I noticed when there was a guy who we had it was a US Army Major that had gotten killed that morning and he was brought in and so here we are apart of the the deployment where we watch them for a first week and then the second week they watch us and if there's any questions they can begin adjust but it was the very first day and have brought this guy in and then we had watch them process this US Army Major.
06:41 They were going through in his pockets and stuff like that. But when it came down to the time where they were going to put the American flag on his transfer case.
06:54 Is that basically it's a mobile are coughing.
06:59 And I noticed that the flag was still wrinkled and it had all the creases of its time that was in in the box and the cardboard box and I thought that was totally messed up that.
07:16 We were sending guys home with
07:19 Flags that looked at in such a way
07:22 My guys that I had no
07:27 Who with the 3rd Battalion 4th Marines so we got killed in Fallujah went through this very same building that I was not working in Jimenez and gray and and Amaya, you know, that's a bunch of other guys that had went to the very saying
07:44 Building and and I hate to think that their flags were given to their family members and they just look so wrinkled and and creased.
07:58 After the guys there the unit we were placing have left.
08:03 I had went down to the the the PX at the little store and and I noticed that they had one can of starch.
08:16 One iron and one ironing board and you're not supposed to use starch and stuff in combat. Nobody's trying to look good for the enemy and I had went over in and purchased it and the next day I would go over and I would do be two cans of starch and next day or two before I would purchase it and stuff and stockpiling.
08:41 And then one day the lady who was ringing me up said what are you doing with all this starts? You're not supposed to be using it here. And I told her I was ironing starching every American flag before I put them on the transfer cases.
08:59 We came up with a way of Highly ironing and starching the flag. And we came up with the new way of putting them on the transfer case because you know, I look back to Oscar Jimenez and and an imagine his family receiving that
09:21 You know.
09:23 That flag is a is a representation of their story of their service of their.
09:32 At their dedication and how much that they sacrificed for all of us and I wanted them to go home in a way of befitting of a hero.
09:44 No, cuz that flag is going to be handed to their loved ones and it should be treated with the utmost respect.
09:57 Did you come up with a new way to tie it onto the so we are we ended up?
10:02 The way it was on there before they just literally just put the flag. It was nobody's fault interest the way it was done since the very beginning of them putting flags on two coffins, but they would put the flag on it and they would tie a white string around it and it was in danger of touching the ground and I thought that was messed up. So we came up with time on the white string first and tie the
10:37 The American flag on pie
10:40 Taking it and tuck it in on its sides and tucking it in. So if anybody looks onto
10:49 Anybody coming home now? It was adopted by all the branches. It was a dump if I you know in 2009 and
11:03 Kinley ended up calling me up.
11:07 From DC and he goes up. Hey.
11:13 We just got a call from Brigadier General so-and-so over he was over in Ramstein with him and his Entourage and they were standing there.
11:24 Watching The Remains being dropped off out of the back of the c-141 and they're they're saluting and the first one comes off and he said he was done the old way.
11:36 And Rodger that the second kitten is taking off and it's done the old way and the third one comes off and it's done. It's done your way.
11:50 And he goes he was highly impressed. He goes damn it. I know Marines Dad that I'm going to find out who did and let him know how much it meant to me and my Entourage so he calls up my old Chief Warrant Officer and in DC Chief wants to ride is and said man.
12:09 It we want to let you know how much it meant to us. He does she goes. Yes, we call out the Buster method we've been doing that since 2005 when staff sergeant Buster picked it and did it. And now we do that forever remains that gets killed over in Iraq. So he goes from now on this is the way that
12:33 That they're going to we're going to be sending guys home from now to the end of the Marine Corps when their country no longer needs a Marine Corps. We are going to be sending guys home like this and so it was adopted by the Marines and then later on it was adopted by the Army and then all the rest of the branches.
12:54 Because of Oscar Jimenez
12:58 And and wanting to honor him and all those who have given their lives for our country. I wanted to honor them by trying to send them home the best way we could and I am so happy that that has is living on and it will continue to live on because these guys had given their lives for all of us so that we can try to honor them the best way we could
13:31 So how did that affect you when you got home?
13:41 My job the area on my third tour.
13:45 Was I was a forward operating Mortuary Affairs Marine. So what that means? I'm as a forward operating body back if the unit couldn't go out and recover their remains because they were still engaged in combat or if the scene was to catastrophic.
14:05 It would send me and a couple of guys out. If you guys have to go out and find where I was what was left of these guys a lot of cases. It would be a vehicle that got blown up.
14:22 And so dealing with that spending days of breaking these vehicles are part swinging sledgehammers cuz they're all melted or blown into bits and stuff and then sifting through and looking for the smallest pieces of whatever we could find and then my job they're being at the collection point would be if somebody who had gotten killed they would bring those hitting the remains in and then we would go through and annotate the wounds suffered go through their pockets in the ends and try to collect all of their personal effects and and start the paperwork on them and arrange transportation back to the States.
15:13 Do all that time and seeing how many people has gone through some of them were my friends.
15:24 That there be some days that.
15:28 We may get one guy and then there's some evenings we may get 13.
15:34 And being in a
15:37 Environment that was
15:40 High velocity environment with all these big
15:44 IEDs that we're going off its big roadside bombs that when you get these bags are a lot of hours just you know parts.
15:58 We ended up.
16:00 You know doing the best job with we absolutely could you not to honor those who had given their lives?
16:11 I did.
16:13 That tour
16:15 That's where I was just.
16:19 Nothing that I ever expected to ever. See. I never thought that I never thought that ever see anything like that and out of my three tours my third tour was the absolutely worst.
16:38 You know.
16:42 What broke me?
16:44 Wasn't so much.
16:47 Doing the job because I look at it is taken care of those guys who were there?
16:55 Taking the best care that we could for them. I wanted to honor them and honor their families by doing their it's this job.
17:06 And then I knew I was giving it everything that I had.
17:11 But what drove me nuts is when I came home.
17:15 Everything that I had suppressed everything that that we had did.
17:22 Started the Manifest and it wouldn't go away. It was there when I open up my eyes and and you know, every other thought my mind was these guys I would sit down and and eat dinner and stuff and their worst things about
17:45 Yeah, the things are on my plate. That would remind me of them.
17:50 And when you close your eyes at night that you know, that's all you saw was them or you fall asleep and you'd be trapped in a nightmare and you couldn't get out and you were there with them.
18:09 Thank you. And please repeat after me what helped you get through those time.
18:17 At first
18:20 At first all I did was drink.
18:25 I didn't know how to deal with all my stuff. I didn't know who I could talk to you. I didn't know how I can open up. The only thing that I could do was just a drink.
18:41 I was what they call a functional alcoholic. I mean I was drinking myself hopefully to to sleep where I wouldn't be able to dream where it and wouldn't be able to remember anything. And then that's a double-edged sword because sometimes it would just be right there in front of your face and you now you're all your defenses were down and that's where it all the the thoughts of suicide would come up.
19:06 And cuz I was tired of living that way that every thought my mind was them.
19:13 You know, I feel guilty for being alive.
19:16 When all so many guys have gotten killed.
19:22 So we went over to the VFW.
19:25 And there's an evening that I was talking to Mike. The guy the Vietnam veteran. He was a corpsman.
19:33 In Vietnam and
19:37 I like him cuz he we had syrebral conversations, you know about philosophies about you know.
19:48 Life in and out
19:54 He had told me about.
19:57 Because you know what? You need to start writing and I'm like no no no. No, I don't I don't right because believe me you were doing everything that the VA still need you right now. It's like yeah, you guys are taking their meds, right? Yeah, but yet you're drinking yourself to sleep every night. You said you you left your job. Why did you leave your job is like because I felt like I was going to get blown up all over again, and I I couldn't deliver my mail and not feel like
20:31 You know.
20:33 Those guys were still with me.
20:36 And it was driving me crazy.
20:40 And that he goes what you need to do is to start writing your story down you can do it. Anyway, you want to just start writing and when you're done with the particular story, you can go over and start a bonfire and do whatever you want to do is ask is to celebrate or to put a toast out to them and and when you're done with that burn it.
21:13 When you're done reading a particular story, okay?
21:18 So you said whenever you're done writing a particular story?
21:23 To go over and start a bonfire and
21:29 And you goes you can do whatever ceremony that you would need to do to give a toast to your Fallen friends, whatever experience and and put the most important part is to take that story and burn it. And at first I thought it was so this is Ho Chi, you know, this guy's hippie from back in the sixties East talk too much stuff.
21:56 But I woke up from a nightmare one night.
22:00 And I did what I usually did. I went over in the garage and I just pulled out a 12-pack and started pounding them.
22:10 And then I start when why not I have nothing else to lose the start writing about it. And I did and I started writing and after I was finished right that particular story I did what he asked me to do. I went over and I burned it.
22:29 At first I thought it was okay, whatever then I did it again and again and again and again, and eventually I started feeling better about
22:42 That the situations that was going on because now I felt like I had power over those stories that I have power over those now that they don't have a weight on my shoulders that they weren't driving me crazy, and now that I could go over and if whatever it is that I felt like I was a burden on me I can go over and now I could get rid of that burden by burning that story.
23:11 And it made me feel better and over a course of many years. I started to write the same story over and over again, but this time I started writing it in different.
23:25 Perspectives and then and so basically I was teaching myself how to write.
23:34 After all of those stories, I was writing it was the same 13 stories over a couple years. I said to myself why not try to to write a book.
23:49 Why did you want to publish them all of a sudden?
23:55 For me it was the honor those who had that we had taken care of and honor their families.
24:04 To honor those who had done this job before cuz it's a thankless job. We were always meant to be in the in the background and and to go out and recover these guys and then work on them and send them home and nobody was there ever know about what we did. I want it on of those guys who who still did the job the best way they could and
24:33 I'm sorry. What was the question again? And why Mom? I'm losing it.
24:48 Where you want to ask?
24:50 You can just go like that to me.
24:53 Oh, okay. What made you want to publish it?
25:01 Were you wanting to help others with your story?
25:07 After I
25:11 After I published it.
25:14 I thought that this was a would be a great way to let other people know.
25:23 There that there is hope that there is life after combat that there is a way through.
25:33 Through all of the trauma through all of the things it takes a lot of work to get to where I'm at now and I believe that if I never picked up the pen if I never talked to Mike.
25:51 If if I never spent all that time writing and working through those stories in my head and trying to honor those guys. I wouldn't be here.
26:06 Suicide was a very
26:09 With a nightly battle
26:13 You know, I really really wanted it I didn't want to die.
26:20 I just got sick of being trapped and felt like I had no way out and I figured if I can let people know about writing.
26:33 And trying to honor those who had given their lives for all of us that that there is hope after after War.
26:46 And and we don't have to come home and try to a battle ourselves.
26:54 To to get to a better place that the it is possible that we can it's a lot of work and that takes people.
27:04 Like you
27:06 If it wasn't for you to being in there, I wouldn't I don't think I would even be here either you and you're supporting and you know.
27:17 Is there's a whole bunch of people that that reached out?
27:23 I think that's one of the mistakes being of life. You don't it's so easy.
27:34 To walk out the door.
27:38 Interstate and deal with it
27:42 Yeah, I think that PTSD is not.
27:48 An individual's problem, is that an individual's?
27:52 Disorder it it takes a family a group of people to get back, you know.
28:02 I don't think I'll ever
28:05 Fully get back a hundred percent, but I'm in a lot better place now, you know and I don't think that you know, maybe they deserve those guys who got killed deserve that still beat have somebody that would still feel for them and stuff. But I now I'm now no longer looking at at wanting to kill myself. I'm now looking at it as I want to honor them by continuing to live.
28:36 I want to honor them by doing my best at doing, you know things in life, you know, there's they say that nobody is truly gone unless their names are no longer spoken and I want to carry their names with me and let people know that great men lived.
28:59 You know and I went on other families to let him know how much that they meant to us.
29:06 You know what we were willing to die to make sure that we could bring him home.
29:19 Is there anything else you would want to add? I need a beer do.
29:33 No, maybe about 6.
29:35 How much is sweetie your kid now?
29:47 I think that was great.