Mary Zielinski was an oddity in the Midwest: Half-Mexican, half-German, she had dark, frizzy hair, sharp features, and skin like autumn wheat. But her beauty hid a history of abuse. And when the man who had abused her as a child came back to Princeton, her mind began to unravel. A psychiatrist recommended she move somewhere warm and sunny before she snapped. She was in no state to take her children. "I was so sick I had to do something before I hurt myself," she says. "I told my kids that they could either visit me in Florida or visit my grave."

Rainy was still a toddler, but Nick was old enough to feel abandoned. The 11-year-old refused to even drive to Florida with his mother. He quit karate — the sport Mary had watched him perform — and took up soccer. And he grew closer to his stepdad, a veteran named Chuck Hopper with a kind face and an ever-present buzzcut. The older Nick grew, the more he talked to Hopper about joining the military. The idea seemed inevitable. For a boy in a flyover state like Illinois, the Army was the most realistic ticket to seeing the rest of the world.

Nick was particularly suited for the position, however. He was fiercely loyal to those closest to him — especially Rainy — and would go to any lengths to protect them. Once, a bully threw broken glass at his 6-year-old sister's face. "Nick went right up to that kid and punched him right in the face," Rainy remembers. "When he came home, all he said was: 'I took care of it.'"

Nick and his younger sister, Rainy.
Photo courtesy of Rainy Hopper
Nick and his younger sister, Rainy.
Nick and Rainy with their mother, Mary Zielinski.
Photo courtesy of Rainy Hopper
Nick and Rainy with their mother, Mary Zielinski.

When she was sick, he stayed up all night playing Uno with her. And whenever they flew to Florida to see their mother, he always boarded the plane first to make sure it was safe. When a stranger made fun of Rainy on a flight, 14-year-old Nick threatened to kick the grown man's ass.

He was like that at school too, at least on the rare occasions he attended. With his powerful sprints and prescription rec specs, Nick became the star striker for the Princeton High Tigers soccer team. But he couldn't care less for class. He would do a month's worth of homework in one night and then skip school for weeks at a time.

"It wasn't fast enough for him," Rainy remembers. "He needed in-your-face, manly competition. He needed six-mile runs. He was all boy."

Nick was a freshman in high school on September 11, 2001, when hijackers flew passenger planes into the World Trade Center. And he was just old enough to enlist when President George W. Bush announced the invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003. Nick watched as Baghdad burned on television. He saw troops topple statues of Saddam Hussein. And he wanted in. The only thing that kept him out of the Army was his girlfriend Anna, a whisper-thin woman with blue eyes and blond hair. She begged Nick not to go to war. So he lived with her after graduation, working at Wendy's or on occasional construction jobs, covering his pale skin with dark tribal tattoos, and wondering what to do with his life.

In the end, Anna would decide for him. She wanted a family. He wanted to fight. When she dumped him two years later, Nick was abandoned again. In Iraq, bouquets of flowers and "Mission Accomplished" banners had given way to bombs and shrapnel. So when an Army recruiter knocked on his father's door in Missouri, where Nick was staying after the breakup, the 20-year-old no longer had any reason not to enlist. His country needed him, the recruiter said. And Nick needed an out.

"The war isn't going well," Todd Cutter told his son. "You've got to ­understand that there's every likelihood that you'll end up in the Middle East."

Nick was counting on it. Soon he was knocking out pushups at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. Six months later, he was patrolling the streets of Samarra atop an armored Humvee. Heavy metal blared from the speakers as the vehicle rattled past mosques, piles of trash, and kids playing soccer in the desert sand.

It was an alien world, strange and new and terrifying. Nick was now Specialist Cutter in the 232nd Engineer Company. Here, only one thing hinted at his past back in Princeton. A single word scrawled in black marker on his .50-caliber machine gun.

"Anna."


Dawn in Samarra was a sonic event. Before the sun began to bleach the eastern sky, the muezzin sang the call to morning prayer. "Allahu akbar," he always began. "God is greatest."

From atop the walls of Patrol Base Olson, Nicholas Cutter watched lights flick on inside cinder-block homes. One by one, Samarrans emerged onto the street, greeting one another on the way to the mosque. Then, suddenly, they all disappeared.

Nick rubbed his eyes. He had been up for 24 hours, keeping watch for platoon mates who were sick or injured. Was he seeing things? Samarra should be coming to life right about now. Instead, it was a ghost town.

"Hasten to worship," the muezzin sang. "Hasten to success."

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2 comments
markie19
markie19 topcommenter


10 days ago

READ SEE THE FRIEND IN THIS VIDEO CLIP THAT HAS BEEN GOING ON MOST PEOPLE HAVE BETRAYED ME CAREFUL IT COULD BE YOUR SPOUSE AND YOU COULD NEVER KNOW OR YOUR BEST FRIEND OR YOUR DOCTOR -MINE I THINK WAS GOING TO LET THEM KILL ME-HE IS INVOLVED DR BEACH READ MARKIE MC NIGHT I NEED DR PHIL DR BEACH HAD A CON MAN IN HIS OFFICE THAT DATED PEGGY AND WAS ON DR PHIL-MY MEDICAL RECORDS WERE STOLEN TOO-WATCH YOURS READ MARKIE MC NIGHTEdit (in 6 minutes)

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markie19

6 minutes ago

markie19

1 hour ago

Kerry Goad6 seconds ago via YouTube

LikeLike · · Subscribe on YouTube · SharePelican Brief TrailerPelican Brief TrailerDeleteShareLikeReplymarkie195 hours ago

Read new times uses my stories of the janbrewisms and then writes stories and gets me no help darrow k soll killed no suicide is Steve Lemons dirty or Matthew -google Markerry Soll Mc Night medium so i can get no law enforcement in most states they killed him not crazy 

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