27 War Veterans Reveal The Most Terrifying Thing They’ve Ever Witnessed

You can never fully understand war, unless you live through it. However, these stories from Reddit will still chill you to the core. They’re not for the faint-hearted.

Twenty20, Jovanadventures
Twenty20, Jovanadventures

1. We accidentally attacked a school

I was watching a live feed when we accidentally hit a school.

The scariest thing to me was that the officers’ first concern was covering their asses and protecting their careers; rather than finding and implementing procedures to reduce the chances of such a tragedy happening again.

I ended up working directly for a full-bird colonel in an office next to a brigadier general. I saw so much crap like this, that left me very disillusioned. I eventually stopped sleeping and ended up being medically retired.

2. We needed over fifty body bags at once

I worked on a sling-load team in Afghanistan in ’10-’11. When the order came in for 50+ bodybags to be shipped immediately, got a little sick to my stomach. Then they called for more while we were flying back from dropping them off, because they ran out not putting more than one identifiable man’s parts in each bag, I cried. Still do.

Baddest fuckin’ dudes in the world got scattered, all at once. Still catches me some days, chokes me up…. and I was barely associated with it.

3. I could’ve sworn I saw a ghost

I was an infantryman in the Corps. I was in Fallujah and one night while on post, up in this shot-to-shit Iraqi house, I thought I saw a ghost. You never sleep. When doing QRF, raids, post, and patrols you get little sleep and are pretty fucking tired just all the time.

I remember standing in the dark, looking out into the darkened city, it was eery. I never pressed the NVGs right up to my eye on post and had a small gap where I could still see to my left and right through my peripheral vision. While looking around I noticed a figure standing right next to me.

It sent chills down my body.

4. I carried my best friend’s body after he was hit

Former Army infantry here so I’ll chime in. Losing friends is hard but actually having to carry their bodies after they’ve been hit by an IED is the worst. Those things are scary in themselves, but when you can’t recognize someone because their entire face is missing, that will fuck anybody up.

5. My friend’s equipment got snagged during a jump

Jumping into a 10 day field problem, I hit the ground, make sure I’m still alive, put my weapon into operation, look for my team. Everyone is there but one, (we’ll call him Joe)

Turns out a piece of his equipment snagged on the door, causing him to be a towed parachutist. Since he was dragging in the wind 10ft behind the bird his static line couldn’t deploy. Eventually the jump-masters noticed, cut his equipment free, and his chute deployed. BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!

In case you’re unaware you cant really “steer” a t-10D you’re pretty much a lawn dart. So Joe finally gets cut free after flailing in the wind for god knows how long. Turns out he’s over the impact area. Luckily the artillery status was cold (no one was actively shooting anything into the impact area) so he lands in the impact area, puts his 240L, the heaviest, POS weapon we make the new guys carry, (NO it’s not hazing) into operation packs up his 70+ pound ruck and starts rucking the 5 miles back to the drop zone like nothing ever happened.

6. I witnessed sickening executions

Seeing the way executions are carried out in some places was enough to make me anti-capital punishment.

7. I was shot right in the chest

Got in a Mexican standoff with ANA guys on our cop, they had a dishka pointed at us, and we were about 2-3 hours away from the nearest US forces.

Got shot in the chest from about 15m away and my vest saved my life.

The worst thing I saw was in Afghanistan. A kid in one of the villages we frequently patrolled would tell us where an IED was placed if we gave him a Gatorade. One day he was very nervous and pulled us off to the side and told us fairly descreetely there was one on the road we were heading down. I gave him a Gatorade. The next day his body was laying in the street burned and mutilated

8. A Corporal committed suicide

Suicide. I didn’t know much about him, but the conditions at the base we were at were abysmal. It happened while I was on roving security in an enclave and I had to start the report until the Petty Officer of the Watch relieved me. The marines were housed there as a reaction force and the Corporal was in a bad place. Bad enough to take his rifle and three round burst through the roof of his mouth. There was no note, no inclination from any of his fellow marines that this was going to happen.

I’ll never be able to get that picture out of my head.

9. I heard fire sirens go off and rockets hit the area around me

Going to shower, hearing the incoming fire siren go off. You continue to shower as the 122mm Russian made BM-21 GRAD rockets start hitting the area around you – because there’s nothing you can do and nowhere within range is safe. A piece of shrapnel hits the outside of the field-shower, and you still do nothing.

Just lather and rinse.

10. I saw an engine explode

An engine head about 50 meters away from the engine block, separate from the force of the explosion.

A fuel truck slowly burning.

A mortar round on the ground next to my foot.

A 5 ton truck rear ending a dump truck full of cinder blocks.

Rockets, mortar explosions, an IED detonation 10 meters away, bodies in shrouds on the side of the road, RPGs flying towards me, etc.

Worse than all of that was watching my 2 year old daughter having a seizure.

11. The ground shook for miles around

Incoming was always scary, but it was also scary to watch a B-52 strike. The ground shook for miles around. Napalm was also scary to watch, especially when it was close; and it usually was close.

12. I saw my own blood pour out of me

My own blood. It wasn’t scary at first, mostly from the adrenaline and bewilderment.

Nearing the end of my deployment to Iraq November 2006 to February 2008, it was January in an unfamiliar part of Diyala Province, northwest of Muqdadiya. We were making a contact with Iraqi Police, the majority of our platoon sitting idle in the surrounding area in our M1151’s. In the distance we heard a few shots of small arms fire which our 2LT wanted to investigate. I was the driver to the 2nd Squad Leader, Spartan 2 and we generally took the lead. Our platoon, which was undermanned (2 squads instead of 3 or 4), rolled out with 2 additional Iraqi Army trucks and 2 Iraqi Police trucks towards the suspicious gunfire. Outside the main village, there was an outcropping of buildings as if it was mini village with one dirt/gravel road about a half mile long, with a drainage ditch on the left and a canal on the right.

This is where leadership failed on a few counts. First, air drone recon was called and responding, yet we did not wait for recon to proceed. Second, dirt/gravel roads are avoided as much as possible because of the ease at which IEDS can be emplaced and hidden. Third, a secondary road was located, but had clearly been intentionally blocked, making the main road in suspicious and even more dangerous. Lastly, upon proceeding down the road, the Iraqi Police escort claimed that we were going into an al Qaeda stronghold and promptly abandoned the convoy, which was ultimately ignored by the 2LT.

An Iraq Army humvee took point, next my truck, then another Iraqi truck, with the remaining 7 US trucks proceeded down this road. Roughly halfway down, the lead truck stopped for some reason. Without radio contact, we had no idea why until I moved to the side a bit and saw a ditch across the road, barring safe passage forward. My squad leader got out to get some word with the Iraqis ahead and immediately jumped back in his seat. At that same moment we came under small arms fire. He jumped back in yelling about being shot at. Outside my driver’s window I saw 3 men pop up from tall grass about 50 meters directly beside my truck, firing AKs. My gunner called out a bongo truck to the front near the village with a mounted DshK.

This was a typical L ambush and I was front and center, no way forward, left, right, nor hasty retreat, taking small arms and now heavy machine gun fire. My gunner engaged the bongo truck and I could see the M240 turret kick up dust around the 3 engaged on my left. I just sat there, unable to defend myself. Then came a bang, a flash of fire and smoke. I thought it was an IED. I felt a pinch on my left cheek and touched it, drawing back a heavily bloodied glove. I slapped it back on and applied pressure, training kicking in immediately. I called out to the squad leader “I’m bleeding!” Someone said “Kaganos is hit” then the SL said “Kaganos, don’t go to the light!” (Seriously, no shit.) I wondered if I was dying since I felt no pain, the blood, and unbeknownst to me at the time, the fire suppression system had activated, which the heavy gas made our voices super low, like the opposite of helium. It was like a movie portrayal of slow motion. My senses were all fucked up.

I had enough of sitting there in the kill zone and started to reverse. The Iraqi truck behind me didn’t get the hint until I rammed him about 2 or 3 times (lightly…ish). Finally we began to back slowly away, which isn’t easy on a narrow road, with one hand on the wheel, with only a single side mirror (no back up mirror and the passenger side mirror was blocked from view).

At some point the medic had run up to my truck from about 3 back to jump in mine, under fire. We managed to move the convoy far back enough to chance a Chinese fire drill so that my SL could drive and the medic could tend to me. We eventually moved off the road and headed back to base, while I sent up my own 9 line media on the Blue Force tracker.

After being seen by medics and being flown by black hawk to Balad medical, I learned that I wasn’t hit by an IED. The DshK had penetration the armor of my truck above the windshield, ricocheting at the rollbar beside my head, finally breaking apart and spraying shrapnel across my face.

A few inches and I could have had a stump where my head was. The PTSD is a motherfucker still to this day and the VA says I’ll most likely never be free of it.

13. I was still on alert, even when I was home

It’s kind of scary when the indirect fire (mortars, rockets, etc.) alarms go off and you run to a bunker.

While you’re sitting in the bunker, which is really just a few slabs of concrete, there’s this feeling of complete impotence. In all the war movies you’ve ever seen, an enemy attacks and the soldiers rush forward with their weapons to meet the attack head on. In reality, when the Taliban is firing mortars at you, there’s nothing you can do except sit there and wait.

So you sit down in the bunker, with a crazy loud alarm screaming at you, and you know you’re completely powerless to do anything. You sit there and you listen for small arms fire, you listen for people screaming (if they got hit), and you listen to the explosions coming closer and closer to you as the Taliban adjusts their aim and tries to land rockets on your head.

The worst part is that when you come back home, every fucking thing sounds like that IDF alarm. Somebody scoots their chair back on a tiled floor, and your heart rate shots up to 120 and you reach for a weapon that you’re no longer carrying

14. We were shot at by pirates

In the navy.

Was a part of the M/V Quest incident. Not to make myself sound like a war hero or anything as I was safe in CIC during it but we were shot at by pirates. Just coming to the realization that people were willing to kill you for essentially nothing was difficult and pretty scary.

The truly scariest thing I saw was a different time though. We were coming out of a Strait of Hormuz transit and an Iranian Combattante was following us out. It stopped and started to turn. It got within prime missile firing range/angle and I remember just staring at the OSS screen damn near shitting myself just waiting for a puff of smoke to appear out of a launcher. Luckily they were just turning but my asshole puckered so hard I swear it took a bite out of the chair.

Seeing the surprising amount of “ghost” ships out at sea was weird as well.

15. I saw body parts scattered everywhere

I saw two mid-level Taliban leaders get shredded by the 30mm cannon off of an A-10. Body parts just scattered everywhere. About 10 minutes later, a pack of wild dogs showed up and ate what was left of them.

16. A shell flew through the air

A live 75(ish)mm HE shell flying through the air after I’d just picked it up and thrown it.

17. I saw things I couldn’t explain at sea

I was a Navy Sailor who went out to sea many times for weeks at a time. One of my jobs was being a lookout to spot boats, planes, things in the water or air pretty much and report it back to the ship. My Lookout rotation could have me standing watch during the day or night sometimes both and it was during the nights where I was pretty afraid especially if you were at the back of the ship alone. For anyone who hasn’t been out in the middle of the ocean in the middle of the night should realize you see many more lights in the sky than you would ever in a city. And on Navy ships they like to have very little lights on at night so standing watch around 1am feels very alien sometimes. And during the nights without a bright moon to help with your vision, you may as well be on a different planet. There was this one time I saw bright green color moving in the water slowly and I didn’t know what it was. My mind told me maybe it’s a USO or something else. Eventually I was told it was just plankton but it sure looked freaky to someone who wasn’t aware of the glowing plankton produces. Another time me and another guy were standing watch together and I decided just to look up during 2am and see what things I would come across the midnight sky. I would see meteors streak across the sky but a couple of times there were bright lights moving slowly way out there. Perhaps a satellite, maybe who knows. But I stared for a good 20 minutes in the sky and encountered approximately 15 of those slow moving lights in different areas of the sky perhaps many millions of miles apart. Either way those were the few times I saw for myself how vast space really is and that there was so much unknowns out there that humans have yet to discover or explain.

18. I had to help a medic and held strangers’ lives in my hands

I was headed to chow on Camp Ramadi in 2006, when a medic ran out of the aid station and started to just grab people up. There was an incoming mass casualty situation headed in and they needed help. I found myself next to a medic getting scrubbed up and told what I would need to do. they were expecting 26 wounded. I looked at my hand in that glove and thought about the fact the life of a man I have never met could end if I failed and that was the most scared I ever was. My hands were shaking. I had been mortared more times then I care to count, snipers had shot at me, I had seen friends blown up, and this thought had me shook. That I was about to responsible for another mans life. I got lucky and the flight skipped us and went to Baghdad, I have never been so thankful.

19. I have constant nightmares

I’m already loathing the feelings welling up, trying to figure out how to summarize seconds of action, or hours of build up to events.

Cleaning friends from myself.

Calming dying locals.

Explaining to my son why he sometimes wakes me from nightmares.

20. I’ve seen good men turn into drug addicts

Disclaimer: I wasn’t a line troop, but I supported an Infantry Battalion directly through two different tours in Iraq (06-07, 08-09) and we got some pretty gnarly AOs.

While I never had any I’m Gonna Die moments, everybody sees messed up things…things that just make you think. I remember the first time I saw a HMMWV melted down – an automatic transmission liquefies like the T-1000. Seeing some poor bastard who got smeared all over the inside of a truck by explosives is pretty gruesome. Same thing for VBIEDs (car bombs) – an Opel loaded with 155mm howitzer rounds shakes foundations for miles.

The scariest thing I think I can answer for…is human transformation. We had one guy who was an awesome guy – funny, joking, helpful…until he finally just saw the wrong damn thing. Our awesome guy received and scrubbed an MRAP (truck) after it got hit by an Explosively Formed Penetrator, which is downright scary in every possible way it can be. The EFP slug ended up going right through the driver of the vehicle and splattering him all around the truck.

Very few individuals are prepared to handle that situation with aplomb, some just don’t have the coping mechanism to handle it at all. Our Awesome Guy was in the latter group – he was a changed man immediately after that incident: quiet, bottled up, slept little, etc. After that tour he got into drugs really bad and trashed his career…but he was done anyways.

So ya…human transformation. It shows just how vulnerable our personalities and psyches are.

21. I stripped down a car coated in blood

When I was a mechanic in good ole’ Fallujah Iraq I had to strip a humvee down to the frame for parts.

I thought it was weird because it looked perfectly fine…… on the outside

Turns out a Gunny was riding turret when a mortar hit him in the chest, dropped him down into the cab then blew up, turn him into a mist.

The inside of the truck was coated with him.

22. My friends turned into dangerous people

Yeah Iraq sucked for many reasons but that wasn’t the scariest thing I saw.

It’s what we did to each other when we got back. Each month it got worse and worse. Sexual assaults, rapes, vicious fights, bureaucratic backstabs, mental breakdowns, and medical discharges.

My boss, I’ll call her lieutenant M. was one of our battalion’s SHARP (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response & Prevention) reps. This wasn’t her only responsibility, just an additional one.

Every week she had to face hell all the while showing a brave face and signing paperwork like it was just any other job. I saw and helped with only a fraction of the work and it disturbed me. This went on for a year but I saw in her eyes she had aged a decade.

I finished my contract and got out before she did, but not long after I left she was out on medical grounds, in rehab fighting severe alcoholism.

Watching colleagues, friends, and family breaking all the while breaking myself was the real nightmare.

23. I saw a memorial for a man killed in action

Went through 12 months of Afghanistan and the scariest thing I saw was in the rear doing a memorial ceremony for an EOD tech who had recently been KIA. Watching his wife and 1 year old daughter kiss his photo goodbye, and then final role call and taps.

When I had my son I opted for a medical discharge and hung up the boots. I don’t want my wife and son to ever have to go through that. Life is precious.

24. I became a deadly killer

The scariest part was the fact that I was willing to see them as the enemy and had absolutely no issues pulling the trigger to kill them. They almost became a nuisance at times. It was no issue to point my rifle at someone and be ready to kill them in an instant and not think twice about it. I was more upset with missing the opportunity to call home than to point my rifle at someone and be willing to kill them.

25. We were sent to recover dead bodies

Second tour, same job, different AO. We ran security for EOD outside of the city of Fallujah. I was the vehicle commander of Vic4 (or rover vic). Our schedule was usually 24 hours on, 24 hours off. ’06-’07 was just different. If you’re unfamiliar with the timeline of events in Iraq, I encourage you to take a look.

It was a long day and a long night. Those familiar know I’m saying it was boring as it gets. It’s boring yet taxing. You still have to stay vigilant, on guard, or ready. But after so long, you can only be so prepared for…nothing.

2nd squad relieved us and it was time to get some sleep. Drank some water, ate some food, cleaned my ass and passed out. It didn’t last long though, it never does. Our squad leader wakes us all and tells us to “mount up.”

I have to stop and preface this by saying it wasn’t uncommon to run missions on our off days. It was usually nothing very demanding, mostly through areas with the low likelihood of conflict.

We hit the staging area, which is where we would always be briefed on the situation. Vehicle commanders would get briefed by the squad leader, and off we would go.

This one was different. COC called it a “recovery mission”. I remember standing there and literally saying, “what the fuck is that?” A truck pulls up, not a hmmwv, but a pick-up truck. (You know, the shitty white ones that were all over the damn place?) A guy hops out, grabs a couple boxes out of the back and drops them at our squad leaders feet. Guy got back in his truck and drove away. Not a single word was said.

It was very clear at this point it was some serious shit. Sgt. K is our squad leader. He is a good man. He tells us we are going out to “sanitize” a hmmwv that was hit earlier that day. He gives us the location, and tells us they took heavy small arm fire and rpg.

Sgt. K cuts the first box open and hands something to Dooch (vic1). I step forward and grab what he’s handing out… He handed me about 5. I saw the zipper and I knew exactly what they were. I remember the look on Sgt K’s face. It said everything we needed to know. Honestly, I don’t even remember if he said anything at all. If he did, I wasn’t there to hear it. I was in my own world.

“You have a couple minutes to brief your guys before we go Oscar-Mike.”

There is a small town outside of Fallujah. It’s called Karmah. I wish drought, famine, and disease on that place.

We arrived on scene. It was the new Army unit. They had just taken over AO Geranimo within the last week or so. Only been in country about a month. The hmmwv was missing it’s entire back end. We recovered what we could from the hmmwv. Then we canvassed the area and recovered the rest of what we were sent out to recover.

26. Two captains were taken out at once

11th Cav, 1971, RVN. We were transporting two SF captains to rendezvous with some IDF force and circled our vehicles for the night. I’m sitting on top of my M113;looking around. One captain starts walking across the NDP, maybe 20 feet from me; BAM: a puff of smoke at his feet and he goes flying; lands in the dying Jesus position. His buddy starts running to him; BAM; he’s taken out too. Medics respond; we get on line, M113s and Sheridans assault the hidden bunkers we’d NDP’d next to. The 2 captains had been taken out by an obsolete 37 mm anti-tank recoilless rifle left over from WW2. Only time I actually saw someone hit in combat.

27. I was hit by mortar while taking a shit

I was deployed in Iraq in 2007, and ever since I haven’t been able to bring myself to relieve myself on a squat toilet. I think this all began when I was taking a dump and the building I was in got hit by a mortar. So yeah, literally scared the shit out of me. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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