In August 2004, 10 years before he was elected to Congress, Seth Moulton was a young Marine Corps infantry officer on his second tour of Iraq, fighting in the Battle of Najaf.
Moulton rarely tells war stories. Instead, the Marblehead native and former presidential candidate talks about the importance of service and advocates for issues related to veterans causes, including his own struggle with post-traumatic stress.
But in 2015, during his first Veterans Town Hall in Abbot Hall in Marblehead, Moulton opened up about the long, pitched battle against insurgents in 130-degree heat at the vast cemetery in Najaf. During the battle, Moulton, then a 1st lieutenant and platoon commander in the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, took a short break behind a tombstone and opened his flak vest.
Not long afterward, Moulton found one of his Marines who had been shot in the neck and died alone.
That moment, he said, drives him to this day.
Moulton recently held his fifth annual Veterans Town Hall, this time at Peabody City Hall. He said these events are the single thing he is most proud of having done as a congressman.
This year’s event coincided with the recent publication of a book that documents what Moulton and other Marines endured during the Battle of Najaf, a battle for which Moulton was awarded the Bronze Star with Combat “V.”
“All of Which I Saw,” published by Schiffer Military, features photos and stories by Emmy award-winning documentary director and photojournalist Lucian Read, who lives in Brooklyn, New York.
One picture in the book captures Marines, including Moulton, carrying a stretcher of the lifeless body of Lance Cpl. Larry Wells, who was “killed by a sniper’s bullet.”
Read asked Moulton to write the preface for the book.
At the time of the battle, Read was an independent photographer who got himself embedded with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit for its full nine-month deployment. The photos in the book were drawn from more than 30,000 images over Read’s four years in Iraq, but it uses as its structure what it’s like to be on a nine-month deployment.
One picture in particular shows Moulton at dusk on the second day of the battle, grasping his rifle with one hand, his lips in a snarl, his look uncertain. Read said he has plenty of action shots of Moulton, but this one captured what the Marines were going through.
“I chose that picture of Seth ... because I felt it most expressed his actual experience of him being there,” Read said. “It captured the stress and the toll and the uncertainty of combat.”
On the page opposite this photo, Moulton and his fellow Marines are shown carrying Wells.
Moulton said he’s still working his way through the book. It’s hard for him, he said, to look at the photos — and particularly that one.
“So, I actually found that Marine,” he said. “It obviously something I will never forget, and it’s hard to see photos like that, but I also think it’s important.”
The book’s launch party in New York in September featured a talk by Read, Moulton and veteran journalist Dan Rather, who wrote the introduction. Rather worked with Read as a producer on “Dan Rather Reports.”
Read said of all the Iraq veterans he has met over the years, “my most consistent contact and friendship has been with Seth,” so it was natural for him to ask Moulton to write the preface.
When asked why the book took 15 years to publish, Read said when he got back in 2005, publishers thought it was “fantastic,” but it turned out there wasn’t enough of a market for the book at the time.
Now, Read said, the photos have become part of history, and there is renewed interest in them.
“It’s now kind of a look-back and people want to see them again,” he said. He was also able to find the right publisher who saw the value of the book, which he said has value today, given the instability and recklessness of U.S. foreign policy at present.
“It is always important to be reminded of the cost of war,” Read said. “You need to look at this book anytime a policymaker thinks about putting folks in harm’s way.”
As painful as the pictures are to see, Moulton said it’s important for people to see them and understand what the Iraq War was all about.
“What is so powerful about the book is that Lucian not only took incredible photos,” Mouton said, “but he ... represents the war well. So reading the book is a way to understand the Iraq War in a way that is difficult to get to with a long history book, because you see visually what all of us experienced. And for me, it’s much more emotional than just reading about this in the pages of a historical account.”