Person plays pivotal role in 'Generation Kill'

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Nevada native Joshua Ray Person was there during the historic first 40 days of the Iraq war, and some of his role in the effort has been chronicled, first in a book by Evan Wright -- an "embedded" reporter that traveled with Person's unit in the United States Marine Corps First Recon Battalion -- then in a mini-series to air on HBO, starting on Sunday, July 13.

Person was 22 years old. He'd joined the Marines in 1999, just out of high school.

Back at home, now living in Monett, Person's mother, Cindy Bennight, said of his tour in Iraq, "I am extremely proud of Josh's accomplishments in the military. He served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. His job as a Force Recon Marine was dangerous and he served his country proudly. I spent many sleepless nights during that period of time."

Person, a corporal at the time, is heavily featured in the book and in the miniseries.

The book "Generation Kill" is a chronicle of war and survival that is harsh yet intimate, stark yet graphic and not for the faint of heart or those unwilling to read prose told in the often bawdy language used by many of those involved.

Trailers don't give away the extent that the film version differs from the book version; but Person says on the HBO mini-series Web site that much of the show is different in many ways from the actual experience but that it communicates much of the essence of the experience.

A fellow Marine also featured in the film, Rudy Reyes, says that some of the scenes felt as if he were there.

James Ransone, who portrays Person, describes him as "super-sarcastic, and the most verbose" of the characters, saying he takes his job seriously; but doesn't seem to take himself seriously.

Person agrees that he seems cynical, but "I love them like a brother. I can say things and make fun of them but the very second that someone else does it that's not in our group, there's gonna be hell to pay."

Gunnery Sgt. Brad Colbert, describes him as "a great guy a little bit over the top at times."

Bennight agrees. "I've only seen the trailers on HBO and the Web site, but the young man playing Josh is doing a good job of portraying his personality. It is hard to go any more over the top than Josh is in real life," she said.

Of the miniseries itself, Colbert said, "The series really helps explain what it's like to be on the ground, to be engaged, to live through this kind of hardship."

Wright spoke highly of him as well, citing his insight, tactical understanding and radio technical expertise, Person drove the Humvee.

A glimpse of Person's individual, distinctive qualities and traits comes on page 3, when the author writes, "The fact that the enemy in this town has succeeded in shutting up the driver of this vehicle, Corporal Josh Ray Person, is no mean feat. A 22-year-old from Missouri with a faintly hick accent and a schock of white-blond hair his blue eyes are so far apart Marines call him "Hammerhead" or Goldfish" . The first night of the invasion, he had crossed the Iraqi border, simultaneously entertaining and annoying his fellow Marines by screeching out mocking versions of Avril Lavigne songs."

But under ambush in a town not identified by Wright, the lives of the men fall into Person's hands. Another excerpt explains:

"Now, as enemy gunfire tears into the Humvee, Person hunches purposefully over the wheel and drives. The lives of everyone depend on him. If he's injured or killed and the Humvee stops odds are good that everyone will be wiped out Ambushers drop cables from rooftops, trying to decapitate or knock down the Humvee's turret gunner. Person zigzags and brakes as the cables scrape across the Humvee, one of them striking the turret gunner who pounds on the roof, shouting 'I'm OK.'"

There are moments when the soldiers joke and laugh, supporting one another, and others when they get on one another's nerves. And there are graphic tales of the death and carnage surrounding them.

"It was not easy to read the book and I am very glad that our family didn't know what he was doing or going through at that time," Bennight said.

Person also has been involved in the making of the mini-series as an advisor, as have others from his team.

How the mini-series will differ from the book will be revealed soon.

For more about the mini-series, visit www.hbo.com/generationkill, or just watch the show. The first of seven parts airs at 9 p.m., July 13, on HBO.

Person also is the son of Joseph R. Person, Neosho; the grandson of Ray and Betty Bennight, Nevada and Joseph and Izetta Person, Nevada; and the great-grandson of Zadia Houser of Nevada.

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