A Purple Heart recipient who's trying to fit into his old life in Tacoma after serving in Iraq says some wounds take longer to heal.
The fall of a massive Saddam Hussein statue seemed pivotal in the early days of the Iraq war. American forces appeared unstoppable, and victory was nearly at hand.
Kenneth McAllister was one of the first Marines to roll into Baghdad as part of an advanced tank battalion at the start of the war. But a decade later, he's still struggling to find his own peace.
"Yeah, it's hard. Very hard," said the Tacoma native.
These days McAllister is newly married and has a young son, but inside he aches to think that all that was sacrificed nearly 10 years ago has faded from so many people's memories.
"Me personally, at times I've felt forgotten," he said.
The lance corporal faced down certain death in the push to Baghdad, and he paid the price during one tense firefight.
"An Iraqi soldier came up out of the berm, engaged directly on me -- I mean directly on me," McAllister said.
The soldier let loose with and AK-47 from less than 20 feet away. Hot lead flew everywhere.
"It hit the turret of our tank, hit the missile control module, and then the shrapnel went through my mopsuit and hit my arm," he said.
A bullet ricocheted into his right shoulder as McAllister returned fire. Medics patched him up and he was right back in the fight.
He would spend the next seven months in the combat zone and subsequent years battling his own demons.
"I still don't really even know what PTSD is," he said.
The National Center for PTSD says at least a third of all veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.
When McAllister came home, his mind was still in combat. He spent his first six months in a psychiatric ward. Even after treatment, his life remained a struggle.
"It was, hey man, life ain't, it's not Tacoma like it used to be for me," he said.
Part of the problem was that even though he'd been wounded, the Marine Corps didn't recognize him for a Purple Heart. He'd been forgotten.
It took nine years and intervention from Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell before that honor was finally bestowed.
McAllister is proud of his service, but said nothing seems the same in civilian life. He wonders if it would have been easier to simply stay abroad.
His wife and son anchor him, but sometimes Tacoma seems scarier than those days with the tanks. And he aches for his fellow Marines who didn't make it home.
It's been a decade since the war started, and McAllister doesn't want anyone to forget about those who sacrificed for their country.
"We were willing to put everything, everything, for everybody else," he said.