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Mar 20th, 2014 by Richard Lowry
Rafael Peralta – An American Hero

Does Rafael Peralta deserve the Congressional Medal of Honor?

The simple answer is YES! But, the entire story is complicated. There are conflicting eyewitness accounts, even the medical doctors who studied the pathology cannot agree. Additionally, some politicians have made decisions based on political considerations, not the facts of the case.

Sgt Rafael Peralta’s sacrifice, an historical account

Nearly ten years ago, America’s sons, and a few of her daughters, fought the largest battle of Operation Iraqi Freedom in November and December of 2004. Just as is happening today, al Qaeda had taken control of the city of Fallujah and Islamic fundamentalists were spreading terror throughout Iraq from their safe haven inside the fortified city. After months of negotiations and stalemate, the Iraqi government, in concert with the American military, mounted Operation al Fajr to clear the city of the 2000 thugs and criminals who had taken control.

A combined force of Iraqi soldiers and American Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines attacked the city on 8 November, sweeping north to south. Iraqi and American Soldiers, and U.S. Marines entered every room in every building, never knowing if they would find a cowering family or an incensed insurgent waiting to shoot and kill them. Heroism and courage were the norm as Soldiers and Marines kicked in door after door after door.

Four Marine Infantry Battalions and portions of an Army Infantry Battalion swept through the city with Iraqi soldiers in support. By the 15th of November, the infantrymen of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines had been fighting with a tenacious enemy and clearing houses for a week. Sergeant Rafael Peralta led a team of 1/3 Marines into another house that afternoon and the enemy was waiting. Gunfire erupted and Peralta was hit in the cheek by a fragment of a stray, ricocheting bullet. He fell, face down, in the center of an entryway that opened into a second large room. Corporal Davi Allen ran to Peralta’s aid. He bent down to try to provide medical assistance and immediately decided that Peralta was dead. Allen had little time to check Peralta as a hand grenade bounced into the room and landed next to them both.

Allen yelled, “GRENADE,” turned, and shoved another Marine into the corner of the room. Both waited for the inevitable blast as the other Marines in the room scrambled for cover. The grenade exploded, wounding only three Marines – Allen, Jones and Morrison. Allen was peppered in the backside with 24 shards of shrapnel. When the dust settled, several Marines said that Peralta had pulled the grenade to his chest, shielding his fellow Marines from the blast before he died.

Allen recalled the incident to the Washington Post in November of 2004.

“After going through about 50 houses, Allen, 21, of Cloverdale, Ore., was looking around the small living room of a residence when he heard gunshots coming from the kitchen…He looked over and saw a grenade roll into the room. The house’s windows had bars on them, and the grenade was too close to the doorway for Allen to make a run for it. He said he had no choice but to ride it out. “I balled myself in the corner and waited,” he said. “It blew up behind me…Two Marines were injured and one was killed in the attack. Medics brought Allen to Bravo Surgical with 24 pieces of shrapnel in his backside.”[1]

Written eyewitness accounts were collected immediately. “I can say with absolute certainty that no one in that platoon was forced to write anything. SSgt Murdoch made us all write statements immediately following the incident.”[2] With many eyewitness statements, Peralta was put in for a Congressional Medal of Honor and a thorough investigation of the incident was started. Marines returned to the house and documented the site by taking photographs as if it were a crime scene investigation. Official interviews were conducted. Peralta’s clothes and his equipment were recovered and held for analysis. Strangely, his rifle slipped through the cracks and ended up with the Battalion Armorer. It was not recovered until it was found in a locker in Okinawa in 2013. Peralta’s body underwent a detailed forensic autopsy and a thorough report of his wounds was generated. Once the results of all the analyses were obtained, a Marine Corps board recommended that Peralta receive the Medal of Honor. The Marines’ recommendation was made only after detailed investigation and serious deliberation. The results of this detailed analysis were forwarded to the office of the Secretary of Defense for final approval.

The Marines concluded that Rafael Peralta deserved a Medal of Honor

“Representatives of explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) inspected Sergeant Peralta’s flak jacket and retrieved several shrapnel fragments as well as a piece of the grenade’s fuse…It is rare for shrapnel from a grenade of this type to penetrate metal or a flak jacket…”[3]

“EOD’s review of the burn pattern on Sergeant Peralta’s flak jacket; combined with the fragmentation pattern documented by the battalion surgeon and the autopsy report; as well as the photographs of the spot where Sergeant Peralta was recovered, where the grenade exploded on the floor and the fragmentation pattern left on the wall inside the Big Room between D4 and D2; leave no doubt that the grenade exploded underneath Sergeant Peralta on the left side of his flak jacket.”[4]

The investigating officer concluded his report with one short recommendation, “That Sergeant Rafael Peralta, United States Marine Corps, receive the Medal of Honor.”[5]

Past Media Debacles

Who doesn’t remember Pat Tillman or Jessica Lynch? Pat was a National Football League star who gave up a lucrative job after 9/11 to join the United States Army. He was a handsome, physically imposing figure who became a member of the elite United States Army Rangers. Jessica Lynch was a young pretty female American soldier, captured and held for days by the enemy and then rescued by a perfectly executed operation. Both Pat’s and Jessica’s stories were heavily manipulated by the media and George Bush’s political opponents. To this day, most Americans do not know what really happened to Lynch or Tillman. Most will only remember that the Bush administration lied to the American people.

Pat Tillman’s fellow Rangers came up with a story to tell to his parents to soften their grief and give them a final memory of their son dying as a hero. The truth was that he was killed by friendly fire. A U.S. official, trying to impress a reporter, leaked a story that Jessica Lynch was a hero and that she fought to her last bullet. The military never confirmed that story, because no one knew what had happened to Jessica. Yet, every editor in the US and around the world frothed at the mouth when they read of an innocent American girl being held by the “boogieman.” And, they propagated and embellished the story.

When both of these stories were exposed as inaccurate, anti-war extremists jumped on the Bush administration and claimed that ‘Bush had lied to the American people.’ They continued this mantra for years when it was actually the media who did not properly vet the stories before publishing. So, why bring up Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman in a story within which we are talking about Rafael Peralta’s Congressional Medal of Honor?  All three stories converge at the desk of Robert Gates.

Robert Gates, as Secretary of Defense in the Bush Administration, read that Peralta was killed by friendly fire – an American bullet. He still had a bad taste in his mouth from the Tillman and Lynch incidents. It is clear to me that he did not want to ignite another media firestorm, so he searched for a reason to decline the USMC’s request to award the Medal of Honor to Sergeant Rafael Peralta. Conveniently, he found a dissenter.

Controversy Develops

An anonymous complaint was filed with the Pentagon’s inspector general, citing several conflicting reports but emphasizing the dissenting pathologist who continued to insist that Peralta could not possibly have scooped a grenade under his body after sustaining the gunshot wound to his head.

In the original autopsy, the examiner concluded that Peralta could not have possibly been able to move after sustaining the bullet fragment wound to his head. He must not recall the story of Phineas Gage:

“On 13th September, 1848, 25-year-old Gage and his crew were working on the Rutland and Burlington Railroad near Cavendish in Vermont. Gage was preparing for an explosion by compacting a bore with explosive powder using a tamping iron. While he was doing this, a spark from the tamping iron ignited the powder, causing the iron to be propelled at high speed straight through Gage’s skull. It entered under the left cheek bone and exited through the top of the head, and was later recovered some 30 yards from the site of the accident.

The doctor who later attended to him, John Martin Harlow, later noted that the tamping iron was found “several rods [1 rod= 5.02m] behind him, where it was afterward picked up by his men smeared with blood and brain”. The tamping iron was 3ft 8 inches in length and 1.25 inches in diameter at one end…It tapered at one end, over a distance of about 1 ft., to a blunt end 0.25 inches in diameter, and weighed more than 6 kg.

Whether or not Gage lost consciousness is not known, but, remarkably, he was conscious and able to walk within minutes of the accident.”[6]

Gage suffered psychological damage and a major personality shift, but he lived for another twelve years. Obviously, Peralta’s wound was not as serious as Gage’s. Three other doctors, neurosurgeons and neurologists, disagreed with the original pathologist’s supposition that Peralta had to have been incapacitated after sustaining the gunshot wound and so stated their disagreement in writing.

Yet, Gates refused to sign the recommendation for Peralta’s Medal of Honor. Leon Panetta reviewed the recommendation during his tenure and he concluded that the evidence did not prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Peralta pulled the grenade under his body. It is obvious to me that neither Gates nor Panetta took the time to review all the evidence. I have read all the statements and reports given to me by Congressman Duncan Hunter’s office and it is clear to me that the grenade exploded underneath Peralta. If that is true, the only conclusion one can make is that Peralta pulled the grenade to his body to protect the other Marines in the room.

Latest Controversy

Just last week, Chuck Hagel decided again that there was not enough evidence to award a posthumous Medal of Honor to Rafael Peralta, yet he signed a recommendation for two dozen new Medals of Honor for veterans of Korea and Vietnam. I have not seen those packages, but I would be willing to venture that Rafael Peralta belongs in that group of two dozen new Medal of Honor winners.

To make matters worse, The Washington Post released a scandalous article shouting to the world that Marines recanted their testimony and that Peralta was not a hero. They quoted Tony Gonzales, who was not even in the house during the firefight, and Davi Allen who I interviewed several weeks ago. Davi told me that he watched the grenade until it exploded and also told me that he did not want to participate in a new investigation, yet he freely gave his new account to The Washington Post.

What do you think?

Put yourself in that room with Davi Allen and Rafael Peralta. One of your fellow Marines has been hit and you believe he is lying dead on the floor next to you. You see a grenade bounce into the room. You yell, “GRENADE” and dive for the corner, pushing another Marine into the corner with you. You cover to protect yourself from the explosion. The grenade goes off and peppers your backside with shrapnel. That is what all the witnesses will tell you. Davi Allen will tell you that too. But, what he told me in an interview, and apparently told The Washington Post too, is that he saw the grenade explode. Really? In 2004, Davi claimed he was “balled up” in the corner. He received all of his shrapnel wounds in his rear end and he is now claiming he watched the grenade until it exploded. Is this what The Washington Post based their claims on?

When a writer crafts a piece, he presents a picture to his readers. When I first read that Peralta had been shot in the head, I immediately thought of a catastrophic wound that would have killed him immediately. The Washington Post printed:

“Tony Gonzales, a corporal who was outside the house, said one of the Marines approached him, put a hand on his shoulder and wept.

“I shot Peralta with a three-round burst to the face,” the Marine told him, according to Gonzales. “He ran right in front of my line of fire.””[7]

I immediately thought, ‘there is no way Peralta could have survived that.’ The Post article neglected to tell the reader that Peralta suffered a small wound to his cheek from a ricocheting fragment of a 5.56 round (NATO ammunition). The fragment traveled through his brain and was recovered at autopsy. They also failed to mention that several respected doctors wrote in the official reports that it was possible for Peralta to survive that wound long enough to drag a grenade to his body.

Also, Tony Gonzales was not in the room, his claim to involvement is that he helped pull Peralta’s body from the house. I have not heard Brown corroborate Gonzales’ story. And the issues Gonzales and Brown brought up in the Post article were thoroughly addressed by the Marine Corps investigators and discounted.

One of the Marines wounded inside the house, said Peralta saved his life that morning. “He gave me a chance to a second life.” He said the notion that Marines had agreed to make up the story was impossible, noting that he and others were medically evacuated soon after the blast. A Marine colonel assigned to investigate the facts wrote in a Nov. 17, 2005, report that he explored those allegations but became convinced that the Marines who testified to Peralta’s actions “gave an honest account.”

The Washington Post failed to vet its sources in 2001 when an overzealous military official leaked a story that Jessica Lynch ‘fought to her last bullet.” It appears that they have not learned their lesson. On Friday, they published a story about Rafael Peralta without vetting sources again. The Washington Post really needs to be more careful in what it publishes. Millions of people rely on what they read in the Post.

 

Richard S. Lowry is an internationally recognized military historian and author: New Dawn, the battles for Fallujah (Savas Beatie LLC, 2010); Marines in the Garden of Eden (Berkley Caliber, 2006); The Gulf War Chronicles (iUniverse, 2003 and iUniverse Star, 2008), and US Marine in Iraq: Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003 (Osprey, 2006).  Additionally, he contributed to Small Unit Actions(United States Marine Corps History Division, 2008). Visit www.RichardSLowry.com for more information about Richard and his work.

 

 



[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A8612-2004Nov23.html, “Medics Testify to Fallujah’s Horrors”, Jackie Spinner, The Washington Post, Wednesday, November 24, 2004; Page A15.

[2] Email from the combat cameraman who recorded the aftermath of the incident, Steve Sebby, sent to Joe Kasper and Ernesto Londono on 20 February 2014.

[3] Battalion Landing Team 1/3, Investigating Officer – Major REDACTED, Review of insurgent engagement on 15 November 2004 involving Sergeant Rafael Peralta, 1 Jan 05, finding 24.

[4] Ibid. BLT 1/3, finding 27.

[5] Ibid. BLT 1/3.

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Sep 27th, 2013 by Richard Lowry
Coming Soon – Code Name Scarlet – a novel by Richard S. Lowry

Would you sacrifice the one you love to save the world?

 

Code Name Scarlet is a twenty-first century suspense thriller that is pulled from the pages of your newspaper. It begins with the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and ends years later in Quetta, Pakistan. As the story progresses, the unrelated lives of men and women from around the world, move closer and closer together, until they all become part of an event that will change the course of history.

Major Ben Rydell, a young Marine infantry officer who lost both of his parents in the World Trade Center tragedy, finds the love of his life, Meredith Wilson, and is forced to leave her to command a strike force in Operation Scarlet. Lindsey Warner, a young, blonde CIA officer meets Lieutenant Commander Rich Graham, a Navy SEAL, at Kandahar Airfield and they too fall in love. Lindsey and Rich also become key players in Operation Scarlet.

Dr. Achmed Ali Bahan, a Pakistani bomb maker, devises an insidious bomb fuse that can be programmed to detonate anywhere in the world. He becomes involved in a grandiose plot to bring fire and destruction to the American infidel. He allies himself with Taliban and al Qaeda leadership and learns that the Pakistani ISI has given them a nuclear weapon.

As Dr. Bahan refines his plan to explode the nuclear weapon in the American homeland, Lindsey begins to hear rumors of a new al Qaeda plot. Meanwhile, the President of the United States asks the military to develop a plan to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and Aymen al Zawahiri. CENTCOM brings the American military’s best and brightest leaders together to define Operation Scarlet. As the story develops, Operation Scarlet morphs into a plan to find and secure the rogue nuclear weapon.

The story climaxes with a large military operation in the southwestern mountains of Pakistan. As history has proven over and over again, no plan ever survives first contact. Lindsey and Rich are forced to improvise and must make life and death choices to complete the mission.

This is a story of love and war; heroism and cowardice; hollow victory and painful loss. It will make you think and it will make you cry.

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Apr 2nd, 2013 by Richard Lowry
Korea Primer

Are we on the verge of a war in Korea?

Kim Jong Un has been spewing belligerent statements ever since the United Nations imposed sanctions on his country for continuing to

South Korea

develop a nuclear capability. First, he canceled the Armistice. Then, he put his nation on military alert and stated that his country was in a state of war with the south. Is the young Korean dictator serious or is he trying to consolidate his power within his regime?

Will his jingoism lead to a shooting war in Asia? One small incident could escalate into a new Korean War. What will a war in Korea look like? For some insight, let’s take a short look at the Korean war of the 1950’s.

Korea was divided at the 38th parallel into two nations after World War II; the Communist controlled northern half and the Democratic southern half. From their separation, there was a tense standoff. Then, on 25 June 1950, North Korean troops poured across the border into South Korea in an attempt to consolidate the two nations through force of arms. The Communist forces pushed south on the Korean peninsula, capturing 90% of South Korea. The South Korean Army, and their American allies managed to defend a tiny foothold at the southern tip of the peninsula along the Pusan perimeter until America could marshal its resources.

Then, on 15 September 1950, United States Marines conducted a bold amphibious landing far behind enemy lines at the western port city of Inchon, near South Korea’s capital, Seoul. As the Marines prepared to breakout from their beachhead to sever the enemies supply lines, the North Koreans retreated. They withdrew back across the 38th Parallel and the Allied forces pushed into North Korea toward the Chinese border, hoping to rid the entire Korean peninsula of Communist rule.

On 25 October 1950, the People’s Republic of China intervened when hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops attacked across the border into North Korea. The South Korean Army and American forces were engulfed by the massive Chinese incursion. They had to fight their way south to fall back again. Marine General “Chesty” Puller, when asked, said, “We are not retreating, we are attacking in a different direction.” The Allies managed to stem the Chinese tide and set a new defensive line, ironically, at the 38th Parallel. The North and South remained locked in a shooting stalemate until an armistice was signed on 27 July 1953, but not before more than 500,000 South Koreans and 33,000 Americans were killed.

Sixty three years ago, neither the North Koreans nor the South Koreans had the military capabilities they have today. Today, more than one million troops and 20,000 armored vehicles and artillery pieces are facing each other along the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and nearly half of the population of Seoul is within North Korean artillery range. Today, more than 10 million people live in, and around, Seoul. If the North Koreans start shooting, hundreds of thousands of Koreans could die before the South Korean Armed Forces and their American ally could react. Let us pray that Kim Jong Un’s bark is worse than his bite.

Richard S. Lowry has been writing about our men and women in uniform for many years. To learn more about his writing and how to purchase his latest book, visit www.richardslowry.com.

 

 

 

 

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Mar 24th, 2013 by Richard Lowry
10th Anniversary of the Battle For an Nasiriyah

Entering Nasiriyah

It is hard to believe that it has been ten years since Jessica Lynch and the 507th Maintenance Company rolled through the dusty streets of An Nasiriyah on March 23, 2003. Eleven of Jessica’s fellow soldiers were killed that morning, five were captured and a dozen more injured. Lynch was critically injured and near death when she was brought into a military hospital near the site of her ambush.

Within hours of the ambush, the North Carolina Marines of Task Force Tarawa moved to secure the bridges in An Nasiriyah. LtCol Rickey Grabowski’s 1st Battalion, of the 2nd Marine Regiment rolled into the city and encountered stiff resistance. By midmorning they had rescued nearly half of the soldiers who had been ambushed and by noon the Marines were charging forward through a hail of RPGs, AK-47 gunfire, mortar and artillery barrages. By sunset, Grabowski’s Marines had secured their objectives but at a terrible cost. Eighteen of America’s finest died and another dozen were wounded.

In all, twenty-nine Americans died that day in An Nasiriyah. Initially, the situation in Nasiriyah was so confusing and filled with the fog of war that no one knew the connection between the 507th Maintenance Company and the brave Marines of the 2d Marine Regiment. At first, Jessica’s capture was kept quiet for fear that the enemy would move her if they suspected that America knew where she was.

As the days and weeks passed, the news media moved on to Lynch’s rescue and then the fall of Baghdad. When the Department of Defense finally sorted things out and released the names of the Marines and soldiers who died that day, the media took very little interest. No one ever realized that that bloody day in Nasiriyah, on March 23rd, was the costliest day of combat for America in the long years of operations in Iraq.  Twenty-nine American soldiers and Marines were never given the national attention that they deserved for their ultimate sacrifice. This Saturday, nearly a thousand of the veterans of the fight to free Nasiriyah will be coming together at the Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia to honor those sacrifices.

Before sunrise on the 23rd of March, 2003, thirty-three soldiers, traveling in eighteen trucks, stumbled into the dusty desert city of An Nasiriyah. It wasn’t until they had driven all the way through the city that they realized that they were hopelessly lost. As soon as they turned around and tried to retrace their path, every Iraqi with a gun started shooting at the beleaguered convoy. The lead three vehicles managed to run the gauntlet and get back to the U.S. Marines’ front lines.

Five vehicles broke down and ten soldiers scrambled for cover in a nearby ditch. Surrounded, they each vowed to go down fighting. They fought to hold off the enemy for nearly an hour, when Major Bill Peeples and the Marine tankers of Alpha Company, 8th Tanks arrived to save the day. The Marines beat back the enemy and rushed the ten soldiers to safety.

The remaining seventeen soldiers were not as fortunate. Eleven were killed and six captured. Specialists Jamaal Addison and James Kiehl both died when their vehicle careened through an intersection and rolled over on its top.  Private First Class Howard Johnson II and Private Ruben Estrella-Soto’s truck crashed at the same intersection.  Sergeant Donald Walters was lost north of An Nasiriyah when his vehicle broke down. He leapt from his disabled vehicle behind enemy lines and laid down covering fire so that the rest of his unit could turn their vehicles and get out of a horrific ambush.  Private Brandon Sloan was shot and killed while the vehicle he was in was racing south. Chief Warrant Officer Johnny Mata’s truck shuddered to a stop atop a railroad overpass and burst into flames. Mata was killed, but his driver, Specialist Hudson, survived.

Jessica Lynch's HMMWV

Near the end to the doomed convoy, First Sergeant Robert Dowdy tried to shepherd his soldiers to safety. Private First Class Lori Piestewa was driving Dowdy’s HMMWV. Specialist Edward Anguiano, Sergeant George Buggs and Private First Class Jessica Lynch were riding in the back. Piestewa managed to maneuver around obstacles and raced all the way back through Nasiriyah when the flatbed in front of her jackknifed. Lori was unable to avoid the back of the skidding truck. She plowed into the rear of the flatbed, instantly killing Dowdy.

We know that Lori and Jessica survived the collision. It is not clear what happened to Buggs and Anguiano. Patrick Miller, Hudson, Hernandez, Lynch, Piestewa, Riley, and Shoshana Johnson were all taken prisoner. Lynch and Piestewa were separated from the others and eventually ended up in the Tykar Military Hospital. Lori died while being treated, leaving Lynch alone and near death.

The soldiers of the 507th Maintenance Company that were killed that day were from all walks of life and every corner of this nation. They were a swatch cut from the American fabric and the first to die in this protracted war. Lori Piestewa was an American Indian and single mother. Brandon Sloan and Robert Dowdy were both from Cleveland Ohio. Brandon, 19, had left high school early to join the Army, while Dowdy, 38, was a career soldier. James Kiehl, 22, was a friendly computer technician who left behind a pregnant wife. Buggs and Anguiano were not even members of the 507th. Dowdy had convinced them to take one of their vehicles in tow two nights before. Their tow truck ran out of gas north of An Nasiriyah and Dowdy, Piestewa and Lynch had picked them up.

 

By noon, the Marines were pressing north to secure two vital bridges in An Nasiriyah. The fighting started long before they reached the Euphrates River but it wasn’t until they moved into downtown Nasiriyah that all hell broke loose. Alpha Company secured the Euphrates River Bridge while Bravo Company swung out to the east side of town. Charlie Company raced over the Euphrates River and charged through “Ambush Alley” to the Saddam Canal Bridge.

North of the Saddam Canal

Eighteen Marines died in Charlie Company’s battle for that northern bridge. Donald Cline was a twenty-one year old husband and father of two young boys. Patrick Nixon loved history and wanted to eventually be a teacher. Phillip Jordan was a career Marine and loving husband and father. Fred Pokorney was a giant of a man who had just been promoted to 1st Lieutenant.  Sergeant Michael Bitz was the father of two young boys and one-month old twins. David Fribley and Brian Buesing were both Florida natives. Fribley joined the Corps after 9/11 and Buesing had been in the Marines since he graduated from high school. Brendon Reiss was the son of a decorated Vietnam Veteran and Randal Rosacker was the son of a Navy Master Chief submarine sailor. Jose Garibay and Jorge Gonzalez were both from Southern California. Thomas Slocum was a 22 year old from Colorado and Nolen Hutchings was from South Carolina. They were both troubled teens who had worked to turn their lives around in the Corps.

Tamario Burkett was a young Marine from upstate New York. Kemaphoom Chanawongse was born in Thailand and came to the United States at nine years old. He was the first to have a Buddhist funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. Johnathan Gifford wanted to be a Marine since he was a little boy. Michael Williams joined the Corps late in life. At 31, he was just a Lance Corporal but older than most of the young officers he worked for. On his trip over to Iraq, he emailed his girlfriend and asked her to marry him. Thomas Blair was not a member of Charlie Company. He was part of an anti-aircraft unit that had been assigned to Charlie Company. He too, went directly into the Marine Corps after high school graduation.

Twenty-nine lives ended too soon on that clear Sunday in March. Twenty-nine families grieve to this day. These soldiers and Marines died before there was a daily box score in the newspapers of America. They have been buried under thousands more stories. Donald Cline and Michael Williams died because they chose to help their wounded comrades.

Many more soldiers and Marines would have died that day had it not been for the Herculean efforts of men like, Private First Class Patrick Miller, Sergeant Michael Bitz, Gunnery Sergeant Jason Doran, Lieutenant Mike Seely, Captain Eric Garcia, and Major Bill Peeples. These men are true American heroes.

           Read about these brave young men and women in the only book to tell the entire story of America’s first major battle in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Marines in the Garden of Eden, Berkley, New York, 2006, is available at all fine bookstores and online booksellers. It is available in Trade Paperback and in many eBook formats.

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Mar 22nd, 2012 by Richard Lowry
An important anniversary

Nine years ago today, American Soldiers and Marines were racing across the southeastern Iraqi wasteland – charging toward Baghdad. Historians will long argue the righteousness of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq. During the last nine years I have tried to avoid the political discussion. It has been my goal to tell the stories of America’s sons and daughters at war and to tell them as accurately as possible.

As I conducted my research to tell these amazing stories, I have uncovered details that have not been presented to the American people. I have painstakingly studied the story of Jessica Lynch, Rafael Peralta and the battles of Nasiriyah and Fallujah. I have amassed and read thousands of pages of documentation. I have become an expert on the war in Iraq and I have tried to tell the stories of American men and women who did not pick this fight, but fought it anyway. March 23 will mark the ninth anniversary of the first major battle of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the bloodiest single day for America in that long war. Twenty nine Americans were killed in the battle of An Nasiriyah. Here is the beginning of their story.

On March 22, 2003, American Soldiers and Marines were charging across the Iraqi desert, on their way to Saddam’s center of power – Baghdad. The Marines of Task Force Tarawa had been ordered to drive toward the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. There were several bridges in, and around, the dusty city that provided the only viable Euphrates River crossing point. Two critical bridges crossed the river and a third forded the Saddam Canal, north of Nasiriyah.

1st Battalion, 2d Marines were ordered to secure the eastern Euphrates River Bridge and to then push through the city to secure the northern bridge which spanned the Saddam Canal. Movement across the Iraqi desert was slow-going and Task Force Tarawa arrived at Jalibah late on March 22, 2003.

Around midnight on 22/23 March, the Marines of 1st Battalion, 2d Marines were awakened and ordered into their vehicles. They waited there for about an hour and then they moved north toward the intersection of Highway 7 and Highway 1. The Marines moved through the cloverleaf intersection and were headed north on Highway 7 toward Nasiriyah when a small column of Army supply trucks, headlights blazing, raced up the road behind the Marines.

Lieutenant Colonel Rickey Grabowski, believing these to be support vehicles for the Army armored unit he was supposed to relieve, ordered his vehicles off the road to let the soldiers pass. But, this was not a 3d Infantry Division logistics unit. It was Captain Troy King and half of his 507th Maintenance Company. King’s company had become separated in the Kuwaiti desert when several of his vehicles broke down. Captain King was racing forward with 32 of his soldiers in 16 vehicles. They sped past the Marines and headed directly into Nasiriyah.

By 0600, Captain King had led his convoy up a deserted winding highway, across a railroad overpass and past a yellow sign displaying “WELCOME” in large black block letters below what was obviously the same message in Arabic. He led his convoy past a company of dug-in Iraqi tanks, and then through an area filled with giant oil storage tanks.  Dozens of large power lines crisscrossed the road and cluttered the sky. King continued forward into the southern portion of An Nasiriyah. He passed a garbage dump and then a gas station. He drove right through a modern intersection equipped with freeway-style traffic signs, stop lights and a small guard shack built to provide shade for a traffic cop. This major intersection was adorned with a statue commemorating the Iran/Iraq War.

At this intersection, Highway 8 went off to the west, through the southern portion of An Nasiriyah. Captain King missed the large signs, missed the traffic lights, missed the statue, and the left turn onto Highway 8. Instead of heading west toward the Third Infantry Division, he led his soldiers straight into Nasiriyah on Highway 7.

He continued past a manned Iraqi Army checkpoint, and then over the Euphrates River Bridge. Iraqi pickup trucks, loaded with armed Iraqis and machine guns mounted in their beds, began shadowing the American convoy.  Captain King pressed on, obviously incapable of reading a map. He proceeded north across the Saddam Canal Bridge and through more Iraqi defenses. By now, he should have been 100% sure that he was lost. Yet King drove right past the 23rd Brigade’s abandoned headquarters building and turned left on Highway 16. Less than a mile down Highway 16, King approached another “T” intersection with Highway 7. He led the doomed convoy past the Al Quds’ Headquarters and north for more than a mile before he finally realized that he was hopelessly lost.

Finally, King decided to retrace his steps back through Nasiriyah to find the correct route. Just as they were turning to head back down Highway 16, they began to receive sporadic small arms fire. Bullets whizzed overhead and hit the vehicles. The shots seemed to be coming from everywhere. The convoy immediately sped up to get away from the hot fire zone.

Leading the convoy in his HMMWV, King sped forward at such a rate that the larger vehicles were unable to keep up. As the convoy raced forward, ever increasing distances separated the beleaguered vehicles. King drove past the right-hand turn that would take his convoy back down Ambush Alley. In his panic, he continued east on Highway 16.

Not far behind, Sergeant First Class Anthony Pierce and Specialist Timothy Johnson noticed that Captain King had missed the turn. Lacking a working radio, they accelerated their 5-ton truck to catch up with Captain King to tell him that they knew the way back to the turn. Meanwhile, First Sergeant Robert Dowdy approached the Highway 7 intersection at the tail of the fleeing convoy. Dowdy radioed ahead to tell Captain King that the convoy had missed the turn. They all needed to turn around – again.

Still under fire, the convoy continued east on Highway 16, frantically searching for a spot to turn the larger vehicles around. They continued to roll east, farther and farther from Highway 7. There was no decent place to turn around. They pushed east for three kilometers before finally coming upon a suitable spot to turn all of the vehicles. In his small vehicle, King quickly turned around and sped back west.

When the soldiers in the convoy, still under fire, reached the intersection where they needed to turn south, they all turned to retrace their path back through Nasiriyah. Captain King bolted south across the Canal Bridge and through the city, leaving his soldiers in the slower vehicles to fend for themselves. Lori Piestewa, First Sergeant Dowdy, Private First Class Jessica Lynch, Sergeant George Buggs, and Private First Class Edward Anguiano stayed behind with the slowest vehicles.

The faster group of vehicles, led by Captain King and his driver, Private Dale Nace, sped through the city under increasing fire. Pierce and Johnson followed King south as they raced their 5-ton tractor-trailer back through the city.  Sergeant Joel Petrik and Specialist Nicholas Peterson managed to keep their tractor-trailer going fast enough to keep up with Captain King’s Humvee. The three vehicles rushed south through “Ambush Alley” as the Iraqis attempted to block their passage with vehicles and debris. Swerving and dodging the obstacles, they pressed forward over the Euphrates River Bridge.

As they drove south, Petrik noticed a dump truck in the road ahead. The Iraqis had driven the truck onto the road to use as a barricade. An Iraqi officer was standing in the road, waiving for Nace and Captain King to stop. Nace accelerated and the Iraqi dove for cover behind the barricade. Pierce and Johnson swerved around the dump truck and followed King south. By the time Petrik and Peterson had reached the roadblock, the Iraqi Officer was back on his feet in the middle of the road with pistol drawn and he was firing at the approaching eighteen-wheeler.

Petrik and Peterson returned fire with their M-16s and the Iraqi jumped to safety again. Petrik swerved around the right side of the dump truck and momentarily off the road. Now there was an Iraqi Technical directly ahead of them. Petrik jerked the wheel back to the left and his large truck jumped back up onto the road. The gunner in the Technical sprayed the passing truck with machine gun fire as Petrik raced past.

Once past the roadblock, there was a short pause in the shooting. Petrik’s rear view mirror had been shot out so he asked Peterson, “How many vehicles are in back of us?” [1]

“None,” Peterson replied.

“None?” Petrik couldn’t believe it. “Look again!”

Peterson checked again. There were no vehicles in sight. Petrik was flabbergasted. Where had all the other vehicles gone? Petrik considered stopping and waiting for the rest of the Company, but the enemy fire picked up again and then he saw four Iraqi tanks. There were two tanks on either side of the road.

Meanwhile, Grabowski’s tanks were approaching the city from the south. As Captain Scott Dyer’s tank approached two farm houses, Major Donald “Hawk” Hawkins looked to the house on the left side of the road and saw a man in a white robe (man-dress) literally picking up children and throwing them into the over loaded rear bed of his small pickup truck. “That’s not a good sign,” Hawk thought, just as small arms fire erupted and mortar rounds exploded nearby.

The lead tanks quickly turned and charged the farm houses. Dyer stopped his tank about 40 yards from the house on the west side of the road. Hawk and Dyer could hear the small arms fire but could not determine where it was coming from.  Suspecting that they were being shot at from the house, Captain Dyer directed Hawk to fire his machine gun into the building and a vegetated area to the north. The tankers violent response drove the enemy fighters from their cover and both farm houses were quickly secured.

As the tankers were fighting at the farm houses, King’s three lead vehicles sped south through a hail of gunfire, past the Iraqi tanks and over the railroad bridge. At the crest of the bridge, Petrik noticed more tanks in the distance. They were American M1 tanks. Petrik thought, “Please don’t let the Abrams shoot, because they don’t miss.”

King, Nace, Johnson, Pierce, Petrik and Peterson raced south toward the Marines on Highway 7. Just as the tanks were pulling back up onto the road, Peeples’ tankers saw the vehicle racing south, pulling a flaming trailer toward the Marines. Despite the adrenalin rush of “first contact” the reserve tankers had the discipline and maturity to wait to fire until they could make a visual ID. To their surprise, it was Captain King’s HMMWV. Everyone held their fire. Around 0730, King’s Humvee, a small truck and a semi barreled south past Peeples’ lead tanks, and screeched to a stop.

Sitting atop his M1 tank, Major Peeples watched the beleaguered vehicles approach. Captain King jumped out, pistol drawn, and took cover behind the passenger side door.

Major Peeples climbed down from his tank and briskly walked over to King. “What in the Hell is going on?”[2]

“I got more people up there!” King replied, motioning north. King was almost hysterical.

“What is the situation up there?” Peeples tried to get a picture of what he was up against. “Where were you receiving fire?”

King was frazzled. He couldn’t provide any useful information.

Peeples tried once again. “How many soldiers are left up there?”

“I, I just need, I need you to go get some people. I got people up there.” King babbled.

“Okay, Fine!” Peeples left King standing in the road and returned to his tank. Major Peeples got on the radio and reported his bizarre find to Grabowski – then ordered a section of his tanks forward. When Hawk saw the tanks moving north he told Captain Scott Dyer, “I have to be with the lead trace.[3]” So Captain Dyer ordered his tank forward too. Dyer’s driver gunned the engine, and followed Peeples north. As they rolled forward, Hawk, unable to contact the Air Officer, started calling out on the guard frequency[4] for Cobra support.

Captains Matt Schenberger, Brian Bruggeman, and Lieutenants Travis Richie and John Parker had parked their two HML/A 269 Cobra helicopters for the night near Jalibah at a nearby makeshift airfield and had slept on the desert floor next to their refueling trucks. On the morning of March 23, 2003, they climbed into their birds, cranked their engines and lifted into the morning sky. As soon as they were airborne, they were alerted to Hawk’s call. They turned north and raced toward An Nasiriyah to help their fellow North Carolina Marines.

Hawk told the pilots to start searching for more of the 507th soldiers with their high powered optics. As Team Tank charged forward to rescue King’s soldiers, other Marines escorted King south to the relative safety of Grabowski’s Battalion Command Post. The bounding maneuver that Hawk had demonstrated, practiced and was admonished for while at Camp Shoup, was now seamlessly being put into practice by the Air-Ground team of Cobras and tanks.

Separated from Captain King and the lead vehicles, Army Specialist Jun Zhang and Sergeant Curtis Campbell led the second group of helpless vehicles in another 5-ton tractor-trailer. Private First Class Marcus Dubois and Corporal Damien Luten followed in a second truck. CW3[5] Marc Nash and Staff Sergeant Tarik Jackson were towing a trailer with their HMMWV and Private First Class Adam Elliot and Sergeant James Grubb followed in their empty fuel truck. Finally, Sergeant Rose and Corporal Francis Carista rounded out the second group in their 5-ton tractor-trailer.

These ten soldiers raced south in their five vehicles. Zhang, Dubois, Jackson, Elliot, and Rose swerved around obstacles and drove over the Euphrates River Bridge. They raced south past the intersection with Highway 8, past the dug-in tanks, and up onto the railway bridge, only to find a terrifying sight.

The Iraqis had blocked the southern end of the bridge by pushing two dilapidated buses across the road. Iraqi fighters peppered Zhang and Campbell’s vehicles with small arms and RPG fire. Campbell recalled, “I have never been so scared in my life.”[6] While rolling down the bridge, their vehicle was hit repeatedly by RPGs and small arms fire. The vehicle rolled forward from momentum only. Mortally wounded, the engine had ceased to work. Somehow Zhang managed to maneuver the truck around the roadblock of buses but their tractor-trailer soon rolled to a terrifying stop.

Zhang and Campbell immediately jumped from their disabled vehicle. Zhang jumped onto Dubois and Luten’s truck as it passed but Campbell, who had been riding “shotgun,” was now left alone with the disabled truck. He tried to return fire and was shot in the thigh.

Nash and Jackson screeched to a stop and picked up Campbell. The HMMWV kicked up dust and stones as it accelerated to continue south. But the three didn’t get very far before their Hummer was hit and disabled. Dubois, Luten, and Zhang raced south and soon they noticed vehicles on the highway ahead – lots of vehicles. They thought the vehicles on the southern horizon were more Iraqis so they quickly turned their truck around and returned to their stranded friends just south of the railroad bridge. Ten soldiers were now huddled in a trench along the side of the road. The small group formed a defensive perimeter. Rose dressed the others’ wounds as they waited for the Iraqis to overrun their position. Each of the ten soldiers had resigned himself to the fact that the situation was hopeless and that he would probably die soon. They all decided to hold on as long as they could. They agreed that they would go down fighting and not be captured. One said, “I am going to take fifteen or twenty of them with me.”[7]

Major Peeples’ tanks tried to advance by bounds up the road, but the narrow road was raised above a muddy delta and there was very little room for the tankers to maneuver around each other. On his second bound, Captain Jim Thompson radioed Peeples. “Hey, I see them,”[8] he reported. Thompson abandoned the bounding over watch and with the cover of the Cobras, raced forward toward the embattled soldiers of the 507th.

Running low on ammunition and with five wounded, the ten stranded soldiers had been lying in the trench for nearly an hour, waiting for the Iraqis to close in on their position. Suddenly, Staff Sergeant Tarik Jackson, the most seriously wounded, cocked his head, “Listen!” he exclaimed. “Do you hear that? It sounds like our tanks!”[9]

Someone peeked up out of the trench and saw Captain Thompson’s tanks approaching. Thompson’s tankers began picking targets and methodically destroying the enemy with main gun rounds while Hawk’s Cobras swooped in and attacked the enemy from above.

After spending forty-five minutes of sheer hell, believing that they were going to die that day, the sound of M1 tanks and Cobra helicopters immediately rallied the despondent soldiers. They would survive. The Marines had saved the day. Peeples’ tanks rolled up and straddled the trench at the “Garbage Dump,” just south of the railroad overpass.

Cobras and Hueys swooped in and braved anti-aircraft fire to protect the soldiers on the ground. The pilots reported large numbers of fighters moving toward the trapped soldiers.  They flew in low and fast, engaging enemy troops and weapons systems.  Every now and then, anti-aircraft artillery fire would climb up after them.

At one point, there was so much air coming in that Hawk couldn’t keep all the call signs straight; many of which were similar sounding names. Because they were ‘troops in contact,’ all priority for air had shifted to Task Force Tarawa. At one point there were two sections of Marine F18s, one section of Navy F14s and a British Tornado that checked on station in addition to the division of Cobras.  Do to his unfamiliarity with the capabilities of the British Tornados, and less than ideal experiences with F14s providing close air support, Hawk elected to stick with using Marine Corps Air whenever it was available.[10]

Working as a combined arms team, Peeples’ tankers, the aircraft overhead and the artillery were able to destroy several platoon-sized enemy formations, two ZSU 23-4[11] antiaircraft weapons, several mortar and artillery positions, as well as two T-55 tanks spotted moving toward the ambushed soldiers.

As soon as Dyer had seen Campbell and his comrades huddled in the ditch, he called for a cas-evac. Alpha Company sent two AAVs with Gunnery Sergeant Justin LeHew and First Sergeant James Thompson’s Casualty Collection Team forward to assist the wounded soldiers. The Iraqis were still firing as Thompson rolled up in his AMTRAC, A312.[12] Peeples’ tankers continued to lay down covering fire as First Sergeant Thompson, Gunny LeHew and their corpsmen ran to the aid of the wounded soldiers.

As they loaded the casualties on to their track, Thompson noticed some commotion near the soldiers who were not wounded. Chief Warrant Officer Marc Nash was refusing to get into the AMTRAC.

“I can’t leave my men behind, First Sergeant,”[13] he protested to Thompson. “I got men all over the place. They ambushed us bad.”

Thompson tried to calm Nash. “Hey Sir, the Marines have landed. You gotta leave them. You can’t stay here.” Thompson didn’t wait for a response: he just dragged Nash into the track. “We will do everything we can to find them.”

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Eleven Soldiers of the 507th Maintenance Company died in that ambush and eighteen Marines were killed later that day as they moved to secure the bridges. Let us never forget the dedication and sacrifices of these men and women. Please take a moment to remember these Soldiers and Sailors. They will not be completely gone until they are forgotten:

Specialists Jamaal Addison, Specialist Edward Anguiano, Sergeant George Buggs, First Sergeant Robert Dowdy, Private Ruben Estrella-Soto, Private First Class Howard Johnson II, Specialist James Kiehl, Chief Warrant Officer Johnny Mata, Private First Class Lori Piestewa, Private Brandon Sloan and the real hero of the 507th Maintenance Company, Sergeant Donald Walters.

Later that same day, eighteen Marines died in Charlie Company’s battle for the northern bridge. Donald Cline was a twenty-one year old husband and father of two young boys. Patrick Nixon loved history and wanted to eventually be a teacher. Phillip Jordan was a career Marine and loving husband and father. Fred Pokorney was a giant of a man who had just been promoted to 1st Lieutenant.  Sergeant Michael Bitz was the father of two young boys and one-month old twins. David Fribley and Brian Buesing were both Florida natives. Fribley joind the Corps after 9/11 and Buesing had been in the Marines since he graduated from high school. Brendon Reiss was the son of a decorated Vietnam Veteran and Randal Rosacker was the son of a Navy Master Chief submarine sailor. Jose Garibay and Jorge Gonzalez were both from Southern California. Thomas Slocum was a 22 year old from Colorado and Nolen Hutchings was from South Carolina. They were both troubled teens who had worked to turn their lives around in the Corps.

Tamario Burkett was a young Marine from upstate New York. Kemaphoom Chanawongse was born in Thailand and came to the United States at nine years old. He was the first to have a Buddhist funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. Johnathan Gifford wanted to be a Marine since he was a little boy. Michael Williams joined the Corps late in life. At 31, he was just a Lance Corporal but older than most of the young officers he worked for. On his trip over to Iraq, he emailed his girlfriend and asked her to marry him. Thomas Blair was not a member of Charlie Company. He was part of an anti-aircraft unit that had been assigned to Charlie Company. He too, went directly into the Marine Corps after high school graduation.

Please hold these men and women in your thoughts today and read Marines in the Garden of Eden to learn the story of each and every one of these American heroes.


[1] Conversation taken from telephone interview with Sgt Joel Petrik (USA), 5/24/05.

[2] Telephone interview with Major Bill Peeples, 1/29/04.

[3] Major Donald Hawkins, telephone interview, 10/28/11.

[4] The Guard Frequency is an unencrypted general channel used primarily for emergencies. All military aircraft monitor the Guard Frequency.

[5] Chief Warrant Officer 3.

[6] Telephone interview with Sgt Curtis Campbell (USA), 5/11/04.

[7] Telephone interview with Sgt Curtis Campbell (USA), 5/11/04.

[8] Ibid. Peeples.

[9] Ibid. Campbell.

[10] The preceding paragraph taken from interactions between Major Hawkins and Capt Miller in Hammer from Above, Presidio Press, December, 2005.

[11] Russian-built anti-aircraft gun.

[12] Each company in the 1st Battalion had twelve tracks. They were numbered by company, AAV platoon and vehicle. Alpha Company had A301 through A312; Bravo had B201 to B212; Charlie had C201 through C212.

[13] Telephone Interview with 1stSgt James Thompson, Jr., 8/1/04.

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May 22nd, 2011 by Richard Lowry
A Final Farewell

Today, Saturday, May 21, 2011, I had the honor of bidding farewell Marion “Turk” Turner’s as his ashes were returned to the sea for his eternal patrol. A cool breeze blew in Bataan’s hanger deck this morning as an honor guard, silhouetted by the bright morning sun, stood at attention in their crisp dress white uniforms. There was a white morning haze separating the deep blue sea and a clear blue sky. It was a perfect day to say goodbye.

Turk was born Marion Turner on April 22, 1918 in Moultrie, Georgia and enlisted in the United States Navy in 1939. He became an Electrician’s Mate and immediately volunteered for the submarine service. He served aboard USS Sealion and USS Perch.

While serving aboard Perch, the boat was attacked by Japanese destroyers on March 1, 1942. The Captain quickly submerged the boat, as the enemy quickly closed in on the American submarine. The relentless depth charge attack drove the boat down to 135 feet. Turk and his friends worked through the night patching leaks and they were finally able to resurface early the next morning to get fresh air and recharge their batteries.

The enemy ships spotted Perch when she surfaced and attacked – again. This time the depth charges exploded dangerously close, rupturing one of Perch’s ballast tanks, belching oil and bubbles toward the surface. Perch waited in silence until it was safe to surface again. They patched up all they could but the damage was too severe to allow Perch to submerge again. Unable to submerge, the boat’s captain, Lieutenant Commander David A. Hurt ordered the ship to be abandoned and the submarine scuttled.

Years later, Turner recalled: “… as we were given the order to ‘abandon the boat’ when Perch was going down, our captain was the last man off the conning tower. We were in the water for awhile before the Japanese came by to rescue our crew. We did not know if they were going to shoot us or abandon us to the sea. Hurt was having difficulty treading water as the Japanese ship was rescuing the crew using a rickety ladder.”

The captain told Turner that he “wasn’t going to make it,” and said, “Just leave me Turk, I no longer have the strength to go on, save yourself … leave me.”

“I wasn’t going to listen to that,” Turner remembered, “so I dove down and came up right under him, and I pushed him right up the ladder with him still protesting,”

The entire crew survived that day, but six died later in Japanese POW camps as they all endured cruel beatings, starvation and tropical diseases for three and a half years. Fellow POWs remember Turk for his indomitable spirit. Daily, he would tell his friends, ‘We will be saved tomorrow.’ Turk, his friends and the captain were not rescued until the end of the war. After more than three years of captivity, they returned home to the United States October 17, 1945.

Turk Turner remained in the Navy until he retired on December 1, 1959. He settled in Virginia Beach and because of his POW experience with survivors of the Bataan Death March, became a friend of USS Bataan. Turner made many visits to events sponsored by Bataan until his death on February 28, 2011.

Over sixty years after receiving his injuries while in captivity, Turner was presented the Purple Heart Medal, January 2, 2011 during a ceremony held at King’s Grant Baptist Church in Virginia Beach.

“Turk showed us all courage and humility during and after facing the enormous struggle of a POW,” said Captain Stephen T. Koehler, who as the commanding officer of USS Bataan, pinned the medals on Turner. “He gave us perspective when we thought we were having a bad day. It only takes a thought of him with his struggle over 60 years ago, and the way he handled it with a positive attitude to shed light on our current day-to-day problems.

“He became a friend and inspiration to both me and the crew of Bataan with this positive attitude and his zest for life,” Koehler continued. “He spent a lot of his time with my young Sailors telling stories and relating his time in submarines and as a POW, for which I am grateful. He was truly a great influence on Bataan Sailors in our quest to keep Bataan’s heritage part of our ship.”

Ted Davis, a retired U.S. Navy captain and former commanding officer of the USS Grenadier SS 525, echoed Plantz’s praise.

“There is nothing Turk wouldn’t do or has not already done for his country, his service, his friends, and his family,” said Davis, a long-time friend and member of the Hampton Roads Chapter of the U.S. Submarine Veterans, Inc. “Turk showed us the way a hero walks, softy with love in his heart. He may have spent many tours in Hell, but he served God and country for life.”

This morning, after a short speech and prayer, Turk’s remains were passed to Captain Stephen Koehler, who reverentially placed the ashes under an American flag. Then, Turk was committed to the deep to the sharp shrill whistle of a Boatswain’s Pipe and a final hand salute.

Farewell my brother, may you rest in peace.

Richard S. Lowry is currently embedded with the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, on-station in the Mediterranean Sea with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, aboard USS Bataan LHD 5. Richard is a contemporary military historian, award-winning author and former submarine sailor. He is a member of USSVI’s Central Florida Base and served aboard the USS Ulysses S. Grant SSBN 631 from 1968 to 1975. During that time, he made eight deterrent patrols. Read more about Richard and his work at www.richardslowry.com.

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May 19th, 2011 by Richard Lowry
Gator Squares

The 22nd MEU has been on station in the Mediterranean for about two weeks now and we have done absolutely nothing to assist the people of Libya who continue to be slaughtered by their own government. We have spent all our time training and avoiding all other shipping. Once our coalition allies realize that the Obama Doctrine is to instigate but not participate, I fear that they too will back away from their mission of helping the Libyan people.

President Obama has publically stated two important goals for the resolution of the Libyan crisis: First, he has said that the fighting must stop and; second – Qaddafi must go.

The President acted decisively in halting the pro-Qaddafi forces’ advance on Benghazi when he ordered 26th MEU’s Harriers to attack the advancing Libyan Army from the air. He has done nothing to work toward his other stated goal and, after our initial involvement, he has done nothing more to stop the fighting. Qaddafi will not just go away on Mr. Obama’s request. Once a president sets a goal, he needs to lead the military in developing plans to achieve that goal.

It appears that Mr. Obama’s plan is to let other nations take the reins while America watches from the grandstands, cheering NATO and the Coalition on from the sidelines. Mr. Obama has abdicated his seat as leader of the free world and obviously washed his hands of the entire mess.

All the while, four thousand Soldiers, Sailors and Marines are driving in circles in the Mederiteranean. We have left our families to wait at home, missed Easter and Mother’s Day, and ten new fathers were not home to see their sons and daughters born. I am all for the existence of an expeditionary force. I am all for our troops, but I must tell you that this is all a giant waste of time and money for 22nd MEU to be sitting out here doing nothing. A young sailor, mother of two children, said to me today, “I feel like I’m in the Navy to help, but I’m not really helping.”

The MEU has the resources needed directly over our horizon. We could help evacuate refugees. We could provide our substantial medical facilities to wounded Libyans. We could contribute to the air raids or help in the maritime embargo or we could put boots on the ground to decapitate the Qaddafi regime.

Yet, we are traveling in circles.

Semper Fidelis,

Richard

Richard S. Lowry has been writing about the Marine Corps for many years. To learn more about his writing and how to purchase his latest book, visit www.richardslowry.com.

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Apr 24th, 2011 by Richard Lowry
Another day at sea

Greetings from USS Bataan, underway in the Atlantic

110417-N-7508R-001The young men and women of the United States Navy and Marine Corps live a life most of us could not imagine when they sail the seas for you and me. It is a Spartan life. They leave most of the comforts we take for granted as they sail over the horizon.

Many bring iPods, wet wipes and cookies but their lives are drastically changed when they sail out to sea. My first taste of their sacrifice was the loss of the information we have all become accustomed to receiving at home.

Americans are bombarded with information from the time we get up in the morning, to the time we go to bed at night. We turn on our television sets to get the weather and traffic as we prepare for our day; we listen to our radios as we drive to work; most of us have a computer on our desk where we are literally connected to the world through Facebook, Wikipedia and Google; and if there is some piece of unique information we want – there’s an app for that.

Out here on the sea, the Sailors and Marines have none of that. They are lucky if the satellite connection stays up long enough to receive their few email messages. They are elated if they can sit through a March Madness playoff game without losing the signal while the ball is in the air for the winning shot at the buzzer.

Out here, we get our weather by looking outside and measuring how far our chair slides across the deck in heavy seas. Out here, we get our news by word of mouth, to later realize that it was only rumor.

These young Sailors and Marines sacrifice so much every day just by being out here on the high seas. There are no McDonalds, 7-Elevens or local bars. There are no sidewalks, driveways or trees. Everyone is packed into this giant metal monster, plodding our way across the ocean.

We could see land a few days ago. After a week of crossing the Atlantic, the silhouette of mountains on the horizon was a fascination to the Sailors and Marines on the hanger deck. Everyone moved to get a look as word spread. A small group of Marines joked that they could swim for it and make it to shore: never mind the fact that the white capped waves were ten feet tall in a rolling sea and that land was at least fifteen miles away.

The short thrill dissipated as the land disappeared behind us and the men and women on the hanger deck returned to their daily routine. The Sailors and Marines are kept busy with maintenance, training and drilling but at the end of the day they only have a tiny rack to call their own. Every day is a Monday and hours slowly turn to days. Days drag on into weeks. And weeks give way to months. The only respite from the boredom is mail call.

Semper Fidelis,

Richard

Richard S. Lowry has been writing about the Marine Corps for many years. To learn more about his writing and how to purchase his latest book, visit www.richardslowry.com.

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Apr 13th, 2011 by Richard Lowry
Bataan Amphibious Ready Group Receives Visit from Commander, U.S. Second Fleet

Bataan ARGUSS BATAAN, at sea – Sailors and Marines assigned to the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (BATARG) and 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) received a visit from the Commander, U.S. Second Fleet, April 11-12.

Vice Adm. Daniel Holloway visited each of the three ARG ships during the final two days of a rigorous integration training cycle designed to prepare the blue-green team for a broad range of amphibious operations.

During the three weeks of accelerated training, Sailors and Marines tested their ability to perform in such areas as flight deck and well deck operations, air and surface-defense exercises, replenishments-at-sea, small boat operations, medical evacuations, non-combatant evacuation, and tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel.

“I came out here for one reason only, and that is to congratulate you on the way you have come together during this training,” said Holloway in an address to Sailors and Marines on board USS Bataan (LHD 5). “It is no small feat to surge like you have. You have risen to the occasion and knocked this training out of the park.”

The integrated training, conducted by Strike Force Training Atlantic and the Marine Corps’ Special Operation Training Group, began shortly after the Marines embarked March 29.

For many Sailors and Marines, the training marked their first experience working together.

“This is my first deployment, and it took awhile to get used to being on a ship,” said Lance Cpl. Dijon Terry, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 263. “I spent the first few days lost and trying to get used to the ship rocking. I feel much more comfortable now and I really like the Sailors and Marines I work with. As we head east, I know we’re ready.”

Holloway was present during the final training exercise, a complex scenario that tested each watch stander’s ability to make tactical decisions and work together as a unified team.

Holloway expressed his satisfaction with the considerable progress Sailors and Marines had achieved during their short time underway, as well as his confidence that the team will only continue to grow stronger as they ‘sharpen the sword’ and refine their skill sets.

“We are proud of you,” said Holloway. “You are the face of the Navy and Marine Corps and the face of the nation.”

The BATARG deployed three months ahead of their original schedule to relieve the Kearsarge ARG and 26th MEU, currently conducting operations in the Mediterranean Sea.

The BATARG is comprised of Bataan, amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19), and amphibious dock landing ship USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41).

For more information about Bataan, visit the ship’s website at http://www.bataan.navy.mil.
Reposted with permission from Bataan ARG Public Affairs

Semper Fidelis,

Richard

Richard S. Lowry has been writing about the Marine Corps for many years. To learn more about his writing and how to purchase his latest book, visit www.richardslowry.com.

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Apr 11th, 2011 by Richard Lowry
At sea with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group.

110408-N-3965T-160Today, April 9, 2011, is the sixty-ninth anniversary of the fall of the Philippine island of Bataan and the beginning of the “Bataan Death March.” The brave men on Bataan had been under siege since the December 7th attack on Pearl Harbor.  They held as long as they could without re-supply or reinforcement until they were finally forced to surrender. The 4500 men and women of USS Bataan held a moment of silence today in remembrance of that fateful day in history. It was the first time the ship has been quiet since my arrival eleven days ago.

Our days have been filled with exercises of every sort. We have practiced fires, flooding and defending ourselves from attacks from the air, land and sea. The air crews have been continuously honing their skills on the flight deck. The Air Boss and his staff have been directing the intricate ballet of launching and landing several different kinds of aircraft from this relatively small flight deck.

The ships’ officers have participated in this ballet by working with the Air Boss to correctly position the ship for “Flight Quarters” while avoiding other maritime traffic and, at times, conducting drills to practice evading and fighting off small boat attacks.

The Battalion Landing Team has not sat idly by. They have been practicing helicopter borne raids along with mechanized and motorized operations. These exercises include launching and retrieving our amphibious craft, further complicating the air operations and maneuvering of the ship.

All the while, the ships’ crew has been working to keep this small floating city running. They have manned the engine room, laundry and galleys. They have worked to maintain the sophisticated electronics and weapons systems and they have kept our satellite television and internet connection to the world working.

All the elements of the Blue/Green Team in the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group are coming together and are beginning to operate as a finely tuned instrument. Soon, the world will see the varied capabilities of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked aboard Amphibious Ready Group 6.

Semper Fidelis,

Richard

Richard S. Lowry has been writing about the Marine Corps for many years. To learn more about his writing and how to purchase his latest book, visit www.richardslowry.com.

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