Let Us Now Praise Crazy Mofos

Vacation in War-Time Iraq

Jun 1, 2004
Outside Magazine

Derick Williams & Harvey Gough: "Baghdad Sounded Like Fun"
"THERE I WAS, OUTSIDE the Palestine Hotel, sitting in front of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle and sipping an Amstel tall boy," recalls 35-year-old Texan Derick Williams of his first hours cruising wartime Baghdad, in April 2003. "Then somebody started shooting at us. It was a little surreal."

Probably so. At the time, Baghdad had just fallen and was rife with looting and potshots. Some 135 U.S. soldiers had been killed and another 495 reportedly wounded. Williams wasn't in town as an aid worker, journalist, or human shield—he was a freelance risk enthusiast, making him a prime candidate to be shot or arrested. But Williams, a burly Dallas home restorer, didn't mind at all. "I went for the adventure," he says, "and I just felt like everything would be OK."

Williams was traveling with a partner, a 65-year-old Army vet, superpatriot, and burger-joint tycoon named Harvey Gough, who was on a quest to find a Saddam Hussein statue to match the one of Vladimir Lenin perched outside his Dallas restaurant. ("I went because Tommy Franks said I couldn't," scowls Gough. He served with the original leader of Operation Iraqi Freedom during the first Gulf war, when Franks was an assistant division commander in the First Cavalry.) After flying to Jordan, the two hired a driver and a Chevy Suburban and bluffed their way into Iraq, claiming to be from a Texas food bank. Their first stop was an isolated airstrip called H3, which was guarded by U.S. Special Forces in tricked-out dune buggies.

"They were big, buff guys in caps and sunglasses, and their guns were drawn," Williams says. "They were really edgy."

Other highlights from the five-day tour included browsing for AK-47s at the Baghdad souk and whistling their way into the heavily guarded HQ of the Army's V Corps. Their hairiest moment came during a day trip to Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, when Gough tried to swipe a flag from an abandoned police station. A pissed-off mob chased him away. "That was Harvey's thing," sighs Williams. "These guys thought he was being disrespectful, and I thought they were right."

In the end, Gough didn't find his statue, but Williams certainly scored a lifetime of adventure. "I'd do it again," he says. "In a second."

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