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Posted on Apr 28, 2006 in Armchair Reading, Front Page Features

Marines in the Garden of Eden

By Richard S. Lowry

Corporal Matthew Walsh jerked to the side in his seat as his Bravo Company AAV began to move forward into the city. Members of his squad had opened the overhead hatches of the vehicle and Marines with heavier weapons were standing to provide additional firepower on either side. Corporal Walsh was sitting at the feet of the track’s gunner. While inside the track, his job was to prepare the .50-caliber ammunition for the up-gun. Team Mech hadn’t been moving for long when the Marines started receiving enemy small arms fire, more pot shots than anything else. Walsh rode helplessly along in the belly of his track. His friends began to open fire with their SAWs and 240G machine guns.

Walsh moved blindly forward into battle. He could hear the fight but he could not see what was going on outside. He wanted to stand and get a look at what was happening but he would have blocked the other Marine’s line of fire. So he sat nervously waiting. With all the shooting going on, Walsh thought that anyone out there would surely be destroyed before he got close.

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Lance Corporal Hyler who was standing continued to provide the Marines riding blind in the track with a blow-by-blow description of the unfolding events. His first announcement to the Marines below was that there were burned up trucks and HMMWVs all around. Then he announced they were entering the city. Followed by, “It looks like Jacksonville, only shittier.”

Grabowski’s Alpha Command group, in their HMMWVs and two command tracks, followed directly behind Bravo’s tracks. A column of a dozen more soft-skinned Hummers fell in behind the command tracks. Captain Blanchard, the AAV Company Commander, rode at the end of the column. Blanchard had chosen to ride in a Humvee for a couple of reasons. First, his Battalion Commander was in a Humvee. More importantly, the smaller, more agile vehicle afforded Blanchard a better opportunity to maintain radio contact with all of his AAV Platoon and Section leaders. He was free to move forward or fall back to keep track of all of his vehicles.

Gradually, the Battalion began to move like a slinky up the road. Captain Brooks’ Alpha Company fell in behind Grabowski’s command group. Then Charlie Company moved back onto the road and followed in trace. The Battalion’s Mortar Platoon remained fire capped at the 29 Northing to cover the advance to the Euphrates River. Major Tuggle stayed with the Bravo Command Group and the Main CP at the southern end of the formation.

During the previous night, Major Peeples had been ordered to move his combat train to the rear of the formation with the rest of the log trains. Gunny Wright’s combat train normally traveled on the heels of the tank platoons in four Humvees and the two M88 tank retrievers, but now they were with the Battalion log trains.

As Alpha Company approached the railroad bridge; they began taking sporadic small arms fire. Alpha’s Marines shot back. The Timberwolves were headed into battle. Each Marine had his own personal inner struggle. Staff Sergeant Jason Cantu wasn’t scared, he was anxious. Others wondered if they would do the right thing when faced with real combat. How would they react to battle? How would they deal with the first contact with the enemy? Would they perform as the heroic Marines throughout history or would they falter? For others, their thoughts were of friends and family, life and death. Fear and anticipation rode in every track along with excitement and dread. Words cannot describe the raw emotions of men going into battle. One thing is certain: the fatigue caused by three days of travel across the desert was gone.

America’s Battalion

The plan was for Grabowski’s armor and mech forces to make a penetration to the bridges and for Mortenson’s infantry to move in to clear and secure. So, America’s Battalion moved north behind the Timberwolves. Echo, Fox and Golf Companies rolled north in their 7-tons. They had been ordered to move to the Highway 7/8 intersection, dismount and clear both sides of the road from Highway 8 to the Southern bridge. Fox and Echo Companies were in the lead, followed by Golf. From their position south of the garbage dump, the Marines could see the clouds of black smoke and Cobras returning from the front with their rails clear. There was clearly a fight up ahead.

As the radio chatter increased, some of Mortenson’s Marines began to get nervous. Others were anxious to press forward and get into the fight. Once the Timberwolves secured the eastern bridges, Echo Company would drive into the city and secure the route between the two bridges. Now, with a raging battle, some of the Marines began to wonder about the sensibility of moving into Ambush Alley in lightly-armed trucks.

HML/A-269 The Gunrunners Jalabah

Bruggeman and Parker returned to a much different scene at the Marine airfield than what they had awakened to earlier in the day. Helicopters had been ferrying in supplies and Marines all morning. Jalibah had become a busy airfield. The morning calm had changed into hustle and bustle, as Cobras, Hueys, Black Hawks and Phrogs were all jockeying for positions at the refueling stations and rearming points. Birds were constantly landing and taking off. It was organized mayhem.

The Marines on the ground had formed human chains to help replenish the ordinance on the waiting Cobras and Hueys. Every available pair of hands was carrying 20mm rounds and rockets to the helicopters. They all knew that Task Force Tarawa was in a fight, so the MAG-29 Marines worked as fast as they could to help get their birds back into the fight.

507th Maintenance Company

Miller, Riley, Hudson, Hernandez, and Shoshana Johnson were all thrown into the back of a pickup truck and quickly whisked away into Southern Nasiriyah by their captors. They were taken on a terrifying journey through the streets of the city to what appeared to be an Iraqi headquarters. They were stripped of all their equipment and then filmed. As soon as the filming was completed, they were hustled into a Toyota 4-Runner and driven north to Baghdad.

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The flatbed truck that Shoshana Johnson rode in. During the ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company, her truck jacknifed in the southern part of Nasiriyah. The Humvee racing behind the flatbed crashed into the rear of the flatbed. Lori Piestewa was driving that Humvee, 1stSgt Dowdy was riding shotgun and Jessica Lynch was riding in the back with two soldiers from the 3rd ID, George Buggs and Edward Anguiano. Dowdy, Buggs and Anguiano were killed. Piestewa and Lynch were pulled from the vehicle, both still alive. Piestewa died hours later in an Iraqi military hospital.

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