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Stateside: Karl R. Linn's Secret Garden

Stateside with Rosalea

Karl R. Linn's Secret Garden

It is the first day of spring, and today in Berkeley, California, there will be a memorial service for Karl Linn, a landscape architect who died at the age of 81 on February 3. His obituary in the New York Times remembered him as the father of community gardens, an escapee from Nazi Germany, and a peace activist. But while I was searching Google to find out where the memorial service will be, I came across another Karl Linn, one who died at the age of 20 on January 26, and it is to the younger man's garden that I now refer.

His garden is secret because it is a website that was de-activated after he was killed in an ambush in Iraq. I learned of its existence from some message threads on a couple of bulletin boards dedicated to the fallen. The website is where he was posting photographs and information about his life in the Marine Corps Reserve's 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, 4th Marine Division. The 2nd Platoon, Company C, in which he served, shipped out to Iraq last fall.

And so it was that, quite by chance, on the second anniversary of the March 19, 2002, US invasion of Iraq, I learned something of the life of one of its soldiers. And further, as chance would have it, when I was watching a news site's video of the attack that killed young Linn, my concentration was broken by the explosions of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, which happened to be playing on the radio.

If you search for information about Lance Corporal Karl R. Linn, you will come across a number of local newspaper accounts of his life and death, as well as several bulletin board message threads about him. One newspaper notes that both his parents are pacifists; one posting on a message board notes that Karl R. Linn was "half-Asian, like me" and that the two of them were in a paintball team.

Linn was "not so much a tinkerer as an observer" said his dad, Richard, of the motivation Karl had to start a robotics team at his high school and enter competitions. They lived in Midlothian, Virginia, and young Linn was in high school on September 11, 2001. Richard Linn has posted Karl's e-mail of that day on one of the bulletin boards, saying that "Karl was greatly influenced by the events of that day."

In part Karl's 11.11 a.m. email--subject line "Terrorism"--reads: "A little after 1030 we got to a classroom that was picking up the news, and right after that we saw the second tower go. Titus pulled the cable, doesn't want the school panicking, but word is moving faaaaast. ... 1 palestinian group has so far claimed responsibility, but they all try to be proud and stupid. The real perpetrators would know that once the US finds out, they would be incinerated into the stone age.

"This is an amazingly well coordinated attack, focusing on the major symbols of the free world, all within 1 hour. All the history teachers have studied and have known that there is gap in recent years that should be filled by a war, not just a little gulf war. Even I knew it was coming, but I never expected such a violent and unprecedented attack.

"This could easily erupt into a holy war if there are enough zealots in palestine and elsewhere, and could cause a huge conflict that could spell the end of the muslim faith. I hope it doesn't get that global, but you can be sure the world will not let this one go unpunished. This is without a doubt the biggest, most vicious act of terrorism (if not an act of war) in modern times, if not the history of mankind. Looks like Bush and the military will be getting those funds to finish research on all those new weapons and fighters scheduled for the next 8 years.

"... the nation has been really jarred, and while I fear what's going to come, most of it is channeled into anger in knowing that something will happen. Take care, and buy more ammo."

After graduating from high school in mid-2002, young Karl joined the Marines as a reservist, taking the option that allowed him to postpone service so he could go to college and earn an engineering degree. He was activated early to go and serve in Iraq, and his Charlie company was assigned to going out looking for weapons. It is difficult not to wonder how much engineering training this kid got in the Marines. He doesn't mention any on his website. In fact, he uses the website to post the photos he starts taking with a digital camera.

I am going to post here the list of photos, and I'm doing so not because of its subject matter, but because of how circumscribed it shows this young man's world to have grown. Remember, this is a kid who started a robotics team from scratch, who wanted to be an engineer.


Fun with Automatic Weapons--

Posted on the 16th of January, 2005

-The FN MAG-58 General Purpose Machine Gun, what the US calls the M240G. It fires the caliber .308 Winchester, or 7.62x51mm NATO, cartridge from a belt.

-Here's that AKM again, shown field stripped into its major components.

-A side-by-side look at an AKM and my M16A2 Service Rifle.

-Note that the AK fires bigger bullets than the diminutive .223 caliber of the M16.

-Little old me with the Kalashnikov.

-The AK does have its weaknesses, but I do prefer its balance and handling qualities to those of the M16 series.

-Group photo of automatic weapons including the M16A2, AKM, M249, and M240G.

-Same group of weapons and their accessories sitting on top of a palcon.

The First Batch--

Posted on the 12th of January, 2005

-A dusty old AKM with a broken buttstock, confiscated on a random vehicle search.

-A view down the Euphrates river, from 10 floors up on top of the Hadithah dam.

-This shot was taken from our room's balcony when they had been testing the floodgates one time.

-It does get cold in the desert, as this frost-covered M249 Squad Automatic Weapon will attest.

-The next 3 pictures are from a helicopter insert and extract we did for one mission.

-The helicopters you see are a pair of Sikorsky CH-53E's.

-When they were returning with the second wave, I was lucky to grab these shots from on top of a 7-ton.

-Me sitting in the back of a humvee waiting for a patrol to start.

-We spotted this on a routine convoy on Christmas Eve. It's an Italian VS1.6 anti-vehicle mine, containing about 1.6 kilos of TNT for its main charge.


Lnc Cpl Karl R. Linn was killed on 26 January, 2005, in an ambush at Haditha. A reporter from WABC-TV in New York, who had been embedded with Charlie company since January 16, filmed some of the attack. Linn and three other Marines in their early twenties were killed and four others were wounded, according to a story published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on January 28, 2005.

Perhaps they were sitting in the back of a Humvee that had been adapted for these patrols by having high built-up armor-plated sides. I shudder to think that that was so. You can see the highback Humvees in the back of one of the photos Linn posted and, of course, he's sitting in it "waiting for a patrol to start" in another.

Karl R. Linn's website photographs are beautiful. The golden light and long shadows of a winter afternoon in some; the frost on the sand in the early morning in another. The polished gunmetal. The bullets in their magazines: "Note that the AK fires bigger bullets than the diminutive .223 caliber of the M16." But the photo that makes my heart ache above all is the one that says: "Here's that AKM again, shown field stripped into its major components." Recall, it's the "dusty old AKM with a broken buttstock, confiscated on a random vehicle search."

Linn's fascination with weaponry isn't because weapons can kill people. His fascination is with their engineering, with their components, with the way in which they perform the function they were designed for. You can look on inside the translation of the 1967 Official Soviet AKM Manual--published by Paladin Press in 1999--and see the components laid out there in drawings, just like they are in Linn's photograph, and read descriptions of how effective the AKM is at which distance and with what sort of target--fleeing, head-and-shoulders, etc.

What makes my heart ache is that Karl R. Linn was a target. But it's not just in the early morning hours of January 26, 2005, that he was a target. As part of the army in Iraq, he was a target from the moment he set foot there last year. Before that, back in the US, he was a target for the Marines' recruiters, who said he could defer his active duty and they'd pay him to go to engineering school at Virginia Commonwealth University, where there is now a scholarship set up in his honor.

Karl R. Linn was an easy target for the Marines because he had learned that it was better to target someone else--as in paintball--than to be the target, as he felt the US was on September 11, 2001. "Buy more ammo," Linn told his father at the end of his email of that day. He understood that people under attack arm themselves in self-defence. Just like he understood what a boost that attack would be to Bush and the military "getting those funds to finish research on all those new weapons and fighters scheduled for the next 8 years."

Judging from his posts on the website you now have to enter through a back door, Karl R. Linn was just making the most he could of the dangerous situation he found himself in. Ironically, the head-and-shoulders photo that accompanies the Times-Dispatch newspaper report about the death of Lance Corporal Karl R. Linn of Company C is cropped from the website photo entitled "Little old me with the Kalishnokov."

For stories about Karl R. Linn, google his name. Maybe you, too, will find the door into his secret garden.

Oh, and BTW, not that wars are fought like this any more, but the 1812 Overture is about Napoleon's retreat from Moscow in late October 1812. Defeated by the climate and hounded by local resistance and guerilla warfare, the French Army lost 300,000 troops in its ill-fated invasion of Russia, which began in June 1812 with 450,000 troops, less than half of them French.

For an interesting view on terrorism and the US response to it, from a former US Naval War College professor, see:

To contact Rosalea, write to


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