War and after

Shaughn and John

Shaughn and John

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Reuben D’Silva ’13MAR, teacher, Rancho High School, North Las Vegas, Nevada.

Age: 31.
Hometown: North Las Vegas, Nevada.

Marines, 2003–2008. Deployed to Iraq in February 2007 for four months.

It took Corporal Reuben D’Silva more than a year to decide if he’d done the right thing the night a sniper shot him in Iraq in June 2007.

D’Silva was riding through Fallujah in the turret of a seven-ton combat truck. As the 14-truck Marine convoy cruised past a darkened apartment building, D’Silva felt a bullet tear into his left forearm. He spotted a man firing from a window.

“He’s screaming at me, ‘Allahu Akbar!’ and I’m cursing back at him, ‘Fuck you! I’m from North Las Vegas!” (North Las Vegas is a tough neighborhood.) The man was shooting at D’Silva with an AK47 machine gun, but instead of returning fire with his much more deadly belt-fed M240g machine gun, D’Silva used his M-4 rifle.

If he’d used the heavier gun, D’Silva says, Marines in the next truck would have seen its lighted tracer bullets and joined the fight. “They had some devastating weapons. One guy had a .50-caliber machine gun, used to shoot down planes, and there was another guy with an MK-19 automatic grenade launcher. It would have leveled the entire building and killed everyone there.” Marines who inspected the building later found no blood, so D’Silva assumes the shooter survived.

He has made peace with his decision, but he sees both sides. “Some Marines said I shouldn’t give a damn: who cares how many civilians I [would have] killed?” says D’Silva. “I know I saved civilian lives for a fact, but by the same token, that guy got away. He lived maybe to kill another Marine. That’s something I have to live with for the rest of my life.”

D’Silva spent 13 months recovering in a California military hospital, but his arm never fully healed. “I can’t play the guitar anymore, which was a big passion for me. I’m like Marty McFly in Back to the Future.” He can’t type, either, but he says, “I can hold a bottle of beer in my hand, so I’m not disabled.”

The Marines awarded him a purple heart and accelerated his application for citizenship; he’d been born in Bombay (now Mumbai) and came to the United States as a two-year-old. He was made a citizen four months after being injured in Iraq.

Since his discharge, D’Silva has earned a bachelor’s degree in history at the University of Nevada–Las Vegas and two master’s degrees: one in globalization studies at the University of Pennsylvania and another in comparative religion and politics at Yale Divinity School. “I became fascinated by how religion can motivate world affairs.” In peace talks, he says, “religion has to be the number-one focus. Then we can talk about power relationships, and diplomacy, and economics.”

After Yale, D’Silva says he turned down offers to become a college administrator or private-school teacher and decided not to pursue a promising lead for a UN job. Instead, he went home to teach history at Rancho High School, his alma mater. He coaches girls’ basketball and advises four student groups.

This fall, one of his students will attend the University of Pennsylvania. D’Silva describes her as “an immigrant who beat the odds: she’s undocumented, her parents are undocumented, and she lives in a pretty impoverished part of the city.” Young people like her should get citizenship, he says. “They had nothing to do with the decision to come here with no documents. She wants to be a doctor. If she’s a Penn medical graduate, she’s going to make a big contribution to our country, saving lives.”

Seeing his student succeed has confirmed his vocation to teach public school. “It validated the sacrifices, and it tells me that I’m in the right place.”