Chris Bussler (standing) in Iraq, as his unit breaks down a melted M2A2 Bradley fighting vehicle. CONTRIBUTED

Local man writes ‘Memoir of a Mortuary Affairs Marine’

The writing process proves to be therapeutic.

When Chris Bussler joined the Dayton Marine Reservists right out of Enon High School, he didn’t realize he’d be deployed, or what his experiences would be. But, after three tours and retirement with permanent disabilities, he began writing a memoir to counteract his nightmares.

“No Tougher Duty, No Greater Honor: A Memoir of a Mortuary Affairs Marine” was launched at the Kettering VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) Post on Aug. 11.

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“There were people waiting in line for three hours to get an autograph,” said Bussler. “It was outstanding — old Marine buddies from D.C., Quantico, Kentucky and Ohio that I hadn’t seen in years came.”

His wife, Wendy, was by his side. The couple met in Dayton at a wedding, where she was a bridesmaid and he was a swordsman. Although they now live in Harveysburg, “We lived in Dayton’s Belmont neighborhood while he was in the Marine Corps, and during his tours,” said Wendy.

A Springfield mailman, Bussler attended drills one week out of each month. He was on his mail route when a call came from the Marine Corps telling him he was to be deployed.

“My dad served in Vietnam, had worked in the flight line and saw bodybags getting loaded; he told me to do anything necessary to get home, but not in a bodybag.

“Dad knew what war was about — I didn’t and (I) was excited. Now, I look at my daughters the same way he looked at me, hoping they never have to see what I’ve seen.”

Bussler’s unit was one of the first to land in Iraq in February 2003 and built bases in the middle of the desert. “We were understaffed, knew Saddam had chemical weapons, were working with World War II manuals and weren’t prepared for disarming the newer weapons.

“We were one of the first units to break the breach and saw the first bombs being dropped. In the morning, we saw Safwan Hill; a whole Iraqi regiment – the Ghost Brigade – had appeared overnight and were all over the mountain.”

Death – seen in all three tours – became a character in Bussler’s memoir. “During my second tour, I was hit by an IED. My equipment was blown off, I was thrown 40 yards and was lucky to survive.

“I had to stay back while I had surgery but volunteered to return in 2004 during the second push on Fallujah, because I knew a bunch of guys killed in the first push.

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As a noncommissioned officer in charge of Mortuary Affairs Operations, Bussler’s job entailed recovering bodies from the battlefield to return to families.

“A U.S. flag was placed on each transfer case, and the flags were taken right from the bags they arrived in; I started having each flag starched and ironed before placement on the case, and that practice has now been adopted by all the military branches.

“Lots of stories were never told; I’d come back from a tour feeling contaminated by death — seeing folks getting killed and recovering bodies — and resume my life as a postal worker.”

In addition to the brain injury and shrapnel from the IED, Bussler suffered from PTSD, and retired with disabilities.

“I had nightmares, and, in trying to understand what had happened over there, I started writing. I’m not a writer, but it was important that family members know we were the ones willing to die to bring their loved ones’ bodies home. We wanted those remains sent home with honor, and did our best to take care of the fallen.”

His wife says that writing the book was healthy for him: “At first, it was scary, drudging up emotions, but once he was able to get past that, it was very therapeutic, and I saw the good it was doing. Some stories he struggled with and had to walk away. I’m amazed with his growth through this – it’s made a huge difference.”

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