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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Ryan Fahey & Dan Dove

Iraq war hero recalls seeing 'disembodied foot in flip flop' during invasion horrors

A war veteran decoarted for his courage said he went through a period of gruelling mental processing due to the hideous sights he saw during the Iraq invasion, which happened 20 years ago today.

Sergeant Major John Thompson, 43, a single dad-of-three from Devon, was one of the first British soldiers to step foot in Iraq after the invasion was launched on March 20, 2003.

Mr Thompson, a member of the Royal Marines Delta unit, was the third squad to land as helicopters swooped in from an offshore aircraft carrier.

After his tour, the dad exclusively told The Mirror about the "processing" period that helped him to come to terms with what he saw while in the

Middle Eastern country

toppling cruel dictator Saddam Hussein.

Royal Marine Sergeant Major John Thompson speaks exclusively with The Mirror (Daily Mirror)

Mr Thompson said: "The reason why it was such an epiphanal time was because I'd experienced all of this stuff and then I had to go through a processing time after it.

"I was very anxious, I wouldn't say it was PTSD, I was drinking a lot of booze, trying to work out in your head what's just gone on."

He remembered one incident which stays with him to this day, as he witnessed the human damage wrought by the "amazing machine" of war.

Mr Thompson and his unit were one of the first groups of British boots on the ground (Getty Images)

"I saw just a flip flop with somebody's foot, the first half of their leg, and then just nothing. Just like lying in the street," he explained.

"It's stuff that you just don't see in the West when you grow up."

Mr Thompson warned rookie soldiers who think they'll be fine with seeing dead human bodies in the streets that the reality is far more profound.

He said: "You might have this idea, 'oh I'll be cool' ... But you won't. It will affect you."

The sergeant major was awarded a number of medals, including the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross from Queen Elizabeth II (PA)

Looking to the side of the camera the sergeant major then told our interviewer that was "that's probably all I've got to say about that bit."

"I've probably elaborated too much, I don't know", he said.

The highly decorated marine, whose "selfless and courageous actions" earned him the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross (CGC), also spoke of the "terror" he saw on the faces of the Iraqi people his unit encountered.

"I don't think many people have ever seen what scared people look like," he said.

"And I mean really scared, not first world western scared - Not, 'Oh I'm a bit nervous for this interview, or I'm a bit nervous to go and talk to that girl', but wet yourself petrified. That's what these Iraqi people looked like.

"There were three women, in full burqas, you could just see the pools of urine under their feet as they were just petrified of seeing us."

Mr Thompson also spoke about the emotional and psychological ramifications of his first confirmed kills.

An operation of A Company on November 25, 2004 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

He and his superior officer came across three armed enemy combatants, one carrying an RPG and two others with assault rifles.

"The boss and me, we put our aim with our rifles, and shot," he recalled.

"I shot this guy and I just saw this 'poof' of blood that came out of him.

"I think it was his head because that was what I was aiming for. So I saw that and then they dropped."

"Do you know what, at the time I felt nothing about it apart from elation," he told The Mirror.

Mr Thompson and his wife (PA)

"I was like 'woohoo' I killed the enemy. What does that mean? Well subconsciously it means, they're not killing me, they're not killing my brothers, they're not going to plant a bomb or attack us or something like that. It was just elation.

"It wasn't until later. Until I came back to the UK that you really start to unpack it and to find out what effect has it had on you.

"It's only afterwards that you question, 'was I right?', as you'' cry over a bottle of whiskey, and you'll ask yourself questions about who you are, how you are, why you are, and are you happy with who you are?"

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