Perhaps best known as Officer Anthony Colicchio on HBO's The Wire, as well as for roles in Homicide: Life on the Street, The West Wing, and the HBO film Generation Kill, actor and filmmaker Benjamin Busch, the son of esteemed novelist Frederick Busch, has also been a US Marine Corps officer who served two tours of duty in Iraq. In his new memoir, Dust to Dust (Ecco/HarperCollins), Busch juxtaposes the idyllic setting of the fields and rivers of his childhood in upstate New York with his experiences on and off the battlefield.
WHY DID YOU WANT TO WRITE A MEMOIR? I wanted it to be both memories from my life as well as stories that everyone can relate to. We are built from our childhood up and I think early beliefs and events of childhood are stored for a very particular purpose. What I found most remarkable about [revisiting] my childhood was how much of it was still very true to me. The way I see the world still has that same curiosity and endless fascination.
DUST TO DUST IS STRUCTURED IN AN UNCONVENTIONAL, NON-LINEAR MANNER WITH CHAPTERS NAMED AFTER ELEMENTS, LIKE WATER, WOOD, STONE AND ASH. These are all things that I found fascinating and very much part of my environment as I grew up, and I've never lost interest in them. I grew up in the countryside and I spent a lot of time in forests and rivers, stacking stones and making forts, discovering these pieces of the earth that had found their way to my world. I was always amazed that they had such ancient history to them.
YOUR PARENTS WERE STAUNCH PACIFISTS. WAS BECOMING A MARINE AN ACT OF YOUTHFUL REBELLION? I think it was more of my natural tendency to try and solve problems. My parents thought that all conflict could and should be resolved through language. But I was a fighter. I was the one who was out to win the conflict with nature. I was the one who was walking that line inviting risk into my life. So it ended up being a natural, inevitable progression for me to join the military.
HOW DID YOUR TWO TOURS OF DUTY IN IRAQ CHANGE YOU? My first tour, I ended up in charge of a large piece of territory along the Iranian border, which was very rural. And I would constantly be writing in my notebook, trying to give shape, form, and sense to this very foreign place. My second tour, I was in Ramadi. It was very bloody, and the closest you could come to the most hopeless place on Earth. I lost many friends in Iraq and I was convinced every single day that I was not going to survive. It was brutal.
IT SEEMS LIKE THERE WAS A TREMENDOUS SHIFT IN THE WAY YOU PERCEIVED THE WORLD AFTER YOU RETURNED HOME. WHAT DO YOU FEEL CAUSED THAT CHANGE? When I came home, it was my daughter's first birthday. I was a father, and very shortly after that my parents died, and I was suddenly an orphan. I was finally brought directly into the face of mortality. It caused me to question everything I believed was true and caused a great amount of conflict within me. Much of that conflict is still inside of me.