Called up: TM staffer heads for war

Talon Marks photographer John Ung (right) poses with buddie before reporting.

Special to Talon Marks

Talon Marks photographer John Ung (right) poses with buddie before reporting.

“Everybody always asks me, ‘Are you scared? Are you anxious?’ but I try to look at it as a job, so I don’t have to think about being scared. I just go over there, do my job and that’s it.”

It is late Monday morning. Talon Marks Photographer, John Ung has come to school to tie up some loose ends before he leaves to the Middle East for an indefinite amount of time.

Ung is a member of the U.S. Navy’s Construction Battalion.

“We build bases for the military,” he says.

As he is speaking, he is aware that within hours he will be shipped off to the other side of the world.

Yet his mind seems very much consumed with everyday life here.

He talks about all the things he has to do this afternoon: return camera, drop classes, and call the credit card company.

“The worst thing is it’s on a weekend when everything is closed. I couldn’t get my car insurance. I’m going to renew my car and give it to my dad. I have to write a will and I’m trying to call my sister.”

He says, “write a will” as though it requires only as much effort as his other to-dos. It falls right behind “call MasterCard.”

He reflects on the rush of things since he found out he was leaving, “I was always told we were supposed to have a weeks notice. But mine was a 72-hour notice. It was a big surprise. I didn’t have anything ready.”

He makes no effort to cover up the source of his realistic, matter-of-fact approach to this event.

“Since I was little, my Dad–he was in the Vietnam War–he would say, ‘people die sooner or later.’ He always tried to raise me to handle stuff like this.”

For a moment, John digresses and talks about his father.

“My dad is my role model. He always tried to teach me things–street smart things, like common sense to survive. He always tried to lead me to the right path.”

There is a pause and then John again goes over why he came to school today.

John explains that if he had more time, he would say goodbye to all his friends.

“I would love to know how they feel. I wish I could talk to them.”

Ung begins to turn his attention back to leaving.

“I don’t know what kind of base I am going to be on. I’m going there blindfolded.”

He pauses.

“I never thought this was going to happen, until I saw the news report with President Bush. He said, ‘we’re going to do this with or without help.’ That kinda worried me. I think it should worry everyone else too. The last time we were in Iraq we had lots of help. But to go over there by ourselves…I know we have Britain, but it’s going to be a long fight.”

Later when Ung comes back to drop off his last things in the newsroom, he brings his fiancée, Selene Rivera.

Through tears she choked out, “I can’t believe it’s happening.”

Ung reassures her, calling her princess and making everyone aware that he is just going away for a little while.

He says, “Honestly, people ask why you do this. I think it’s the right thing to do. I’m doing this for my country. The most important thing is family. I want to protect this country because my family lives here. We don’t just go because we want to. We have something to fight for.”