An essential list of pop culture’s most memorable Gulf War veterans
By Siri MitchellAugust 31, 2019
Inspired by the upcoming anniversary of the Gulf War, Siri Mitchell, author of State of Lies, compiles a list of the most memorable characters from pop culture who served in and were changed by the war.
As the 30th anniversary of the Gulf War approaches I’ve been thinking about how war can be an incubator for both heroes and villains. It can highlight our greatest strengths or put a spotlight on our most glaring deficiencies. The Gulf War was fought against Iraq, between August 1990 and February 1991, by a coalition of 35 countries in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Those coalition forces were up against the fifth largest army in the world. Over 88,000 tons of bombs were dropped on Iraqis in over 100,000 sorties during a 5-week period. The actual ground war, Operation Desert Sabre (formerly Desert Sword) lasted only 100 hours.
We don’t spend much time thinking about that short war because of all the others we’ve been fighting ever since. Some enduring heroes came out of that conflict but many of the officers implicated in recent military scandals served right alongside them. War can simplify things. It reduces competing demands and goals to just one: staying alive. A battlefield that offers opportunities to save lives also offers the temptation to save oneself at the expense of others.
It’s no surprise then that a war, even a short one, could unleash a nightmare of unintended consequences. Or that a low-level battlefield compromise could set in motion conspiracies that reach out to ensnare future generations in their tentacles. It’s also no surprise that the Gulf War has impacted the entertainment arena, infiltrating plotlines of novels, movies, television shows, and comic books. Some of popular culture’s most beloved and reviled characters fought in that conflict.
- Seeley Booth – Bones, Fox Network (2005 – 2017) – an FBI agent and Gulf War veteran was a sniper. He was also tortured as a POW. Although he was an army ranger and served in the Special Forces, he’s never been comfortable with killing people. Even those who might deserve death. His respect for life sometimes causes him to be over-protective of those he loves.
- Nicholas (Nick) Joseph Fury, Jr. – Ultimate Marvel Universe/Marvel Comics (Ultimate Comics: X-Men #11) – was serving in Kuwait during the Gulf War when he lost an eye in an Iraqi attack. It was during this incident that he encountered Wolverine. Although trained to be an indiscriminate killer, Wolverine chose to rescue Fury, carrying him to safety.
- Tommy Monaghan, ‘Hitman’ – DC Comics (1993 – 2001) – was a U.S. Marine when he was involved in a friendly fire incident in the Gulf War. Two British SAS soldiers were killed. After the war he became a contract killer, though only for criminals and villains. Disdained by Batman and admired by Superman, Tommy is a classic anti-hero.
- Sayid Hassan Jarrah – Lost, ABC (American) (2004 – 2010) – was an Iraqi Republican Guardsman during the Gulf War. He was captured by Americans who turned him into a torturer. After the war, he has second thoughts about the direction of his life and he agrees when the CIA asks him to infiltrate a terrorist cell. Throughout the series, he is portrayed as a tortured torturer; his past life (and skills) continue to haunt him.
- Dylan ‘Dutchy’ Mulholland – Sea Patrol, Nine Network (2007 – 2011) – is a petty officer in the Royal Australian Navy. He is also a Gulf War veteran. Though he rarely speaks of his service during that war, he still feels responsible for a hostage situation and the resulting death of his boarding officer which occurred during the conflict. As a result, he is extremely protective of those he loves.
- Elliot Stabler – Law & Order (Special Victims Unit) – NBC (1999 – 2011) – is a New York Police Department (NYPD) detective who was a hand-to-hand combat specialist during the Gulf War. Though he brought a lot of anger home from the desert, and while he can be intimidating and violent to the point of sabotaging himself and his investigations, he also chooses to protect and advocate for the innocent, the weak, and those who can’t defend themselves.
- Paul Kellerman – Prison Break – 20th Century Fox Television (2005 – 2017) – is a secret service special agent assigned to the U.S. vice president. Kellerman served in the Gulf War before joining the Secret Service. He has decided that the vice president’s ideology is the best hope for the nation and is willing to do whatever it takes to place her in a position of power. He is the best example on this list of how desirable traits like service to country and commitment to a mission can be perverted to serve corrupt purposes. Later in the series, he begins to rethink his actions and then works to unravel the conspiracies he helped to create.
- Mac Taylor – CSI: NY, CBS (2004 – 2013) – is director of the NYPD crime lab and supervisor of the crime scene investigation team. Though he rarely speaks about his past, he served as a Marine in the Gulf War. Unlike some of the men listed above, Mac believes that crimes can never be justified, regardless of circumstances.
Wars produce both the brave and the bully. But somehow we know, deep in our souls, that courage will always triumph over evil. By definition, it has to. If there was no malfeasance or evil, then courage wouldn’t be necessary. It is always through sacrifice and dedication to principle that justice is delivered, oppression is lifted, and crime is abated. To accomplish this, we often place our trust in the hands of those who come back from the battlefield haunted by memories and carrying invisible scars. It’s those very people, however, who know just how close the honorable is to the ignoble. And it’s exactly those people who know best how to protect us.
*Author Photo by Tim Coburn