Taking a Coffin to the Front

August 17,  2004  6:26 p.m.

Shitting was deliberate in Chechnya. It was not something you did lightly. You left one building, all dressed for winter, and went to another whose sole purpose was just what you came for. You pulled down the wooden lever that held the door and entered darkness. You pulled up your coat, dropped your pants in the ice cold and squatted. You always had to keep your own toilet paper in your pocket. Baxter made the mistake of leaving his wallet in his back pocket; it went into the shit.

"Tarzan" was a village leader and probably a fighter. When I needed to get to the front, I'd tell Tarzan. Tarzan would step outside and tell the young men standing around, then a motorcycle with a sidecar would pull up, only it wasn't a sidecar, it was a coffin — a three-wheeled motorcycle with a coffin connected for the passenger. I hesitated before lifting a leg and stepping into a coffin to get to the front. The young Chechens smiled. I sat in the coffin and off we went ...

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E-mail Steve your questions.

Your article on "911: I Never Really Got It" was right on target. The office where I work is directly across the Potomac River from the Pentagon. My co-workers and I were in our director's office watching the twin towers billow with that thick black smoke when we heard and felt the concussion from flight 77 as it slammed into our Pentagon. Our world came to a halt. It was no longer something that was happening in someone else's backyard, something we were watching on a 26 inch color t.v. screen —  It was pounding on our front door and incessantly ringing the door bell like a madman at 2 am - WAKE UP! WAKE UP! WAKE UP!. It was surreal. We found ourselves with the grizzly task of holding front row tickets to the carnage that ensued. It was now our friends, our co-workers, our family members that were being murdered. It is an experience that is seared into our memories for life.

Keep up the good job Steve, we appreciate you putting yourself in harm's way to give the American public an truly objective view of what we're doing doing in Iraq. Stay safe.



I was stationed on a Navy ship off the coast of India on the way to the gulf when 9-11 happened. It was so surreal looking at the video. It was like watching a special effects scene in a movie. Like you, we never could relate to the carnage that took place. We were isolated. The same can be said of civilians who watch the war on TV. It's just not the same as being there. It's too unreal for their minds to comprehend.

— Marcus (Yokosuka, Japan)


My husband and I can relate to your '' not getting'' 9-11. We were on vacation at home, and we slept through everything. We woke up an hour after both buildings had collapsed. We have had feelings of guilt and feelings of relief that we never experienced the horror in real time. 

— Laurie  & Steven (Irving, TX)
As I suspected, your are truly a gentle human being. Thank You for being there for the rest of us.
— Sandra (Kearns, Utah)


I really enjoyed your story about "White Cat."  It really touched me.  I've always been an animal lover - all kinds of animals.  But I think this goes further than that.  No matter how bad things get in this world, how terrible people can be to one another, we are reminded of the joy in simple things and not to take them for granted. Yeah, I'm a romantic at heart and maybe an optimist, too.  Thank you for sharing this story.  It made me smile.

— Linda (Citrus Springs, Florida)


Thanks as always for your wonderful blogs. I am printing them — you are now in a three-ring notebook.  When your blog novel ends, I might bind you in duct tape; seems appropriate for our times.
First I must tell you my Mother has said "I really don't want him to go back to Iraq." She's pretty much telling you that you can't go. But you know how Moms are.  I live with my Mom and she was leaving on Sept. 11 to help her 90-year-old sister move. She left just as the first plane hit. When she got there, her sisters did not want to watch, not having grasped the big picture.  I was alone watching with disbelief as the events unfolded.  It's strange how these things are so compelling to watch on TV, so far removed in Kansas, but something that will change your life forever. 
As always be safe and thanks for all your good work. — Donna

I really enjoyed reading 'White Cat.'  You're doing a great job of personalizing your experiences over there. I hope you stay safe and I hope your 'white cat' stays safe, too.

— Angie(LA)

You have seen more action than I did in a 21 year career in the US Army even though I was deployed repeatedly with units like the 82d Airborne.  The only thing you have not been able to adequately communicate to people is the smell, and the feeling and sense of closeness that only combatants who shared action know.  Comingle the vehicle exhaust, nervous sweat, MRE scraps and smoke from the weapons and you have the stuff of memories years later.  Please know that I respect your courage, keep the info coming.

— Mike

Steve, I've watched you with admiration from the start of this war. You're a gutsy guy, a stalwart. You report concisely and with passion. I'm easily old enough to be your mother, and I worry about you as well as all our people there. Stay safe.

— Vera (Monroe, CT)


Your story reminded me of Nam. There were few dogs and no cats. We wish there had been a cat. The cat would have kept the rats out of the barracks and trash which would have meant we wouldn't be killing them. I used a drawer once and a piece of chain link fence another time.  I'm glad I was successful each time. Of course there were some that got away.

Lou (USA Ret), Colorado Springs, CO

Steve, I appreciate your blog.  Today our 19-y/o is flying to Iraq to serve his first mission as a Marine. I am determined to see the glass as half full when I hear of news on the war on terror  in Iraq and anywhere.  It is difficult because each day I hear so much of the negative, which, I find out later, isn’t always negative, and this makes it unfair and unbalanced!  When I hear something of the positive, I say, why didn’t we hear THAT 50 times like we heard the BAD, negative story 50 times!!  When the positive IS there, I am determined to see it!  Thank you for your part in getting it out to us.

— Jeannie, a mom


Your blog brought back some not-so-fond memories of nighttime raids on a Navy destroyer against North Viet Nam.  It was scary then, too, because the North Vietnamese shot back.  Big time.  And they were good, too.  Their shells hit within 25 ft. of the ship.  Fortunately they were going for direct hits and didn't try for air bursts near the ship. That would have been fatal for us exposed on the bridge. 
But being inside a tin can in the dark with people shooting at you is no fun.  It's exhilerating, but no fun, and I remembered it well as I read your blog. Thanks.  I think.
— Glen (Belton, TX)

Steve Harrigan currently serves as a Miami-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 2001 as a Moscow-based correspondent.