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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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Apr 6th, 2011 by Richard Lowry
Greetings from USS Bataan, underway in the Atlantic.

IMG_0161On 28 March, 2011, I set off on a great adventure. I was invited to spend four months with 2d Battalion, 2d Marines on their deployment with the 22 Marine Expeditionary Unit. I will be conducting my initial research to tell the Marines’ expeditionary story in a forthcoming book and I will also be writing periodic posts to this web log so that you too can make the journey with these dedicated men and women as they deploy in these troubled times.

This last week has reaffirmed my admiration for the Sailors and Marines who leave their lives behind to sail the seas in the service of their nation. I am traveling with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), carrying the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). The blue/green team is known as the ARGMEU. We spent several days loading personnel, equipment, vehicles and aircraft. The Sailors and Marines wasted no time in getting down to business. Everyone is planning and preparing as we are sailing off into history.

The ARGMEU stands ready to provide Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief, or to conduct combat missions. The ARGMEU is ready to extend a helping hand or bring down an iron fist. In the words of Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Miller, “Together, as a team, we are stronger than anyone.”

And, this blue/green team is doing it all on a miser’s budget. I know of no better way to project American diplomacy and power around the world. 22nd MEU stands ready for any mission. It is amazing to see all the weapons systems and equipment in top-notch condition, but the ancillary equipment is old and some is in dire need of repair. The Navy and Marine Corps are spending your money wisely but the Amphibious Navy/Marine team needs more, not less.

I am sitting in the wardroom lounge in a chair that is falling apart. The metal desk drawer handles have fallen off and have been replaced more than once. The computer itself is five or six years old. The commercial internet connection that the Marines and Sailors use to communicate with their loved ones is a decade old and is brutally slow. The bathrooms are in need of renovation and so are the Marines living quarters.

Yet, the Sailors and Marines, the ships and aircraft, and all the critical equipment are prepared for whatever may come their way. These young men and women will soon stand ready as America’s next 911 force in the Mediterranean Sea.

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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Dec 8th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
Deadly Gunfight

Blazer's HouseAfter five weeks of fighting in Fallujah, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines ran into a pocket of diehard insurgents holed up in the center of the city. Here is the story of the costliest firefight of Operation Phantom Fury as described in New Dawn: The Battles for Fallujah.

With winter approaching, the Fallujah nights had turned bitter cold. As Lieutenant Todd Moulder and the 3/5 Kilo Company XO, Lieutenant Ben Diaz, worked to set up defenses at an abandoned school on December 12th, 2004, Sergeant Jason Arellano’s squad left the school to join in the search for blankets. Third Squad moved into the houses just south of the school and east of the 915 block in search of anything that could help keep them warm during the approaching winter night. Arellano stayed behind on the school roof with his platoon commander.

Back on the long, skinny 915 Block, Arellano’s good friend Corporal Jason Clairday led his squad into the eleventh northern house. Sergeant Jeffery Kirk split his 3rd Squad Marines: some entered the eleventh and twelfth southern houses; others moved to a building in the Janabi Hospital complex across the street to provide overwatch for the foraging Marines.

Corporals Ian Stewart and David Cisneros, along with Lance Corporal Chad Pioske, entered the eleventh southern house. Cisneros and Pioske cleared the bottom floor while Stewart went up the stairs to clear the second floor. But as Stewart moved to enter an upstairs bedroom, shots rang out: he had encountered the first group of a platoon-sized enemy force. Stewart went down in the open doorway, mortally wounded. He called for help, and Cisneros and Pioske charged for the stairs to get to their friend. But gunfire and grenades rained down on them from a dozen insurgents holed up in the second-floor bedrooms, and Cisneros and Pioske were forced to fall back, unable to reach Stewart.

Arellano hadn’t been at the school for more than five minutes when the gunfire erupted. “That’s our Marines in contact,”[1] Arellano exclaimed.  He turned and sprinted down the stairs, taking two, three, four at a time. He ran out into the street, where he could see his squad running west across the street toward the fight; Arellano ran toward the fight too. As he ran past the gun trucks and AMTRACs, he pointed and yelled for them to turn around. More Marines poured out of the school and rushed to the sound of the gunfire.

Sergeant Jeffrey Kirk and Staff Sergeant Melvin Blazer were in the house next door when Stewart was gunned down. Kirk had just returned to duty after having been wounded on November 10th. He had given the medical staff such a hard time that they finally relented and let him check out to return to Kilo Company. Kirk moved outside and started looking for another way to get to the enemy on the second floor. He moved west and found a narrow alley between the enemy’s stronghold and the next house. When he turned to enter the alley, he was shot in the head. Did Kirk know that he would not return home when he framed one of his poems and gave it to his mother?

Just as Kirk went down, Arellano reached the house where Stewart was still trapped. Cisneros, Pioske and others tried repeatedly but in vain to rush back into the building and up the stairs to Stewart’s aid; each time they were met by a hail of gunfire and grenades that forced them to fall back. Marines to Arellano’s north were shooting down from their rooftop positions. Arellano, heart pounding, shouted at the top of his lungs, “Where are they at, Clairday?” Clairday pointed downward and continued to fire onto the rooftop and into the alley below.

Still not knowing Corporal Stewart’s fate, Corporal David Cisneros and Lance Corporal Phillip Miska repeatedly tried to re-enter the building where Stewart was trapped. They kept the enemy pinned for fifteen minutes, preventing them from fleeing or attacking other Marines downstairs. On Cisneros’ third attempt, he too was wounded, peppered with shrapnel from one of a dozen enemy grenades.

The enemy fought ferociously, firing automatic weapons and lobbing grenades down the stairs. “Grenade!” yelled Corporal David Hawley, as another hand grenade rained down on the Marines. Hawley turned and pushed two Marines down the stairs. BOOM! The explosion hurled a golf ball-sized chunk of metal into his thigh, knocking him down the stairs. Hawley continued to fire his M16 until his friends dragged him out of the house.

Then Miska noticed an RPG pointed over the half-wall at the top of the stairs. He repeatedly fired at the metal projectile, hoping to detonate the grenade. His volley forced the grenadier to fire without aiming. The grenade missed the Marines in the stairwell, but the explosion knocked them back down the stairs. Undaunted, Miska and the other Marines regrouped and tried once again to fight their way up the stairs.

Private First Class Renaldo Leal repeatedly rushed back into the fight, pulling three wounded Marines to safety. The casualties were mounting; several Marines were now huddled at a casualty collection point, waiting for medical evacuation.

Frustrated by his inability to get to Stewart, Pioske moved to a second-floor patio in the next building, and from his new position obtained a clear shot. He exchanged protracted fire with the enemy, eventually killing five insurgents. All the while Kilo Company Marines were swarming into all of the adjacent buildings, sealing the enemy’s fate.

The Kilo Marines continued to attack. Arellano ran out of one courtyard into the street. He quickly moved along the wall in search of the next gate and approached a narrow alley. He saw a Marine lying on the ground, and wondered why there was no corpsman helping him. Then he realized that another hero had fallen: Sergeant Kirk was dead. Arellano would remember this sight for the rest of his life, but there was no time to mourn now; he had to keep his head clear, he had to stay in the fight, he had to keep his other Marines from the same fate, he had to get to the trapped Marine. Arellano jumped over Kirk’s body and continued his search for the next gate.

Two doors down to the east, Staff Sergeant Melvin Blazer, Jr., a seasoned, seventeen-year veteran of the Corps, had moved into the next house with a group of Marines; they were trying to find a way across the roof to get to Stewart’s house. Blazer headed up the stairs for the roof. When he reached the landing, three insurgents cut him down in a hail of gunfire. Corporal Mason Fischer rushed to the top of the stairwell, protecting Blazer’s body, while Lance Corporal William Vorheis ran for reinforcements.

Vorheis ran into Stewart’s house. “Staff Sergeant Blazer’s been hit and is trapped on the second deck!” he announced between breaths. First Sergeant Steve Knox, Leal and the other Marines rushed to Blazer’s aid in the building where Corporal Fisher was holding the enemy at bay. Without pause Leal charged up the stairs, jumped into the enemy line of fire, and emptied an entire drum of 5.56 from his SAW. Fisher reached underneath the torrent of outgoing lead and dragged Blazer’s lifeless body out of the line of fire and down the stairs. Leal followed Blazer and Fisher, miraculously unscathed.

By now Captain McNulty, Lieutenant Moulder and the Kilo Company command group had moved to the second-floor balcony of the house between the houses where Stewart and Blazer had been shot; they had enemy insurgents barricaded on either side of them. Arellano moved to the patio to link up with his platoon commander. Moulder ordered him into the house next door where Blazer had just been killed. Arellano’s mind was racing. He scanned the scene, looking for men from his squad.

Moulder pointed and repeated, “Get into that house.”

Not seeing any of his own squad, Arellano turned and pointed at Marines near him. “You, you, you and you, come with me,” he ordered.

Lieutenant Moulder ordered Sergeant Coduto to clear the building below and to find a way into Stewart’s building. He told Corporal Herren to return to Stewart’s building and secure the ground floor.

While Coduto’s squad secured the center building, Sergeant Arellano and his shanghaied squad hurried down the stairs to assault the neighboring house. One of Kilo Company’s gun trucks was parked in the street. Arellano checked to make sure that no Marines were inside the house, then ordered the gun truck gunner to pepper the house with 40mm grenades. The gunner opened fire with his MK-19 automatic grenade launcher. Thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk, the grenades slammed into the building and exploded in rapid succession; BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

Now two separate assaults were ongoing: Arellano and his Marines followed the grenades into the courtyard, while Corporal Clairday and his squad moved roof-to-roof, north-to-south to Stewart’s house. One after the other Clairday, Yeager, Lance Corporals Travis Icard and Hilario Lopez each jumped the four-foot gap between the buildings.  Once on the roof Clairday moved to the front of the stack. Simultaneously Arellano and his newly-formed squad prepared to enter Blazer’s house. Arellano charged in and lobbed grenades into the interior rooms. When Clairday, Arellano’s close friend, moved to enter the second-floor room, an AK-47 rattled, hitting him in the arms and legs. Lance Corporal Yeager laid down a spray of bullets while Clairday crawled out of the line of fire. Clairday refused medical treatment and returned to the front of the stack. Arellano and another Marine headed toward the bottom of the stairs.

The Marines could see Corporal Stewart’s boots just inside and to the right of the patio door. Yeager tossed two grenades into the house. Clairday and Lopez charged in and moved left while Gonzalez and Icard charged right. Sergeant Gonzalez sprayed the wall lockers with bullets as another Marine retrieved Stewart’s body. One of the bullet-riddled cupboard doors swung open and out stumbled an insurgent; Gonzalez instantly cut him down. Across the house Clairday led more Marines into the last room. As Clairday, Yeager and Lopez were assaulting the enemy, Miska and his squad leader charged the stairway one last time. Gunfire rang out and Clairday fell, this time mortally wounded. Lopez jumped into the doorway and began firing while Yeager pulled Clairday’s body from harm’s way. The enemy opened fire on Lopez, at point-blank range, killing him too.

Once Yeager had retrieved Clairday he and Icard returned to the fight, attacking the enemy’s last stronghold. Yeager killed another Muj, but more remained. Icard and Yeager began firing into the door jamb. The insurgents responded by lobbing a grenade onto the landing. Yeager and Icard tried to melt into the walls, hoping to protect themselves from the impending blast, but luckily the grenade failed to explode. Yeager, Miska and Icard resumed their attack and didn’t let up until the last two insurgents were dead.

Meanwhile, two houses down, Arellano moved toward the stairwell on which Melvin Blazer, husband and father of two, had just been mortally wounded.  His M16 pointed up, Arellano began to climb the first flight of stairs—backwards—keeping his weapon trained on the second floor. Another Marine followed and threw a grenade up onto the second floor. As soon as that grenade went off, Arellano and the trailing Marine charged up the remaining stairs. They quickly moved past the room into which Leal had emptied his SAW and ran straight toward the adjacent bedroom.

Smoke from the previous grenades filled the house. Enemy rounds were chipping at the walls all around them. Like Gonzalez, Arellano shot at areas where the insurgents could be hiding as he charged into the bedroom. His bullets ripped into each corner, through a bed, and splintered a row of standup wooden dressers.

Arellano shouted “Clear left! Clear right! Room clear! Nada!”

He returned to the bedroom door and grabbed a grenade to throw into the room the two men had just run past. He could see a group of Marines stacked on the stairs waiting to charge onto the second floor, so he shouted to them that he was about to frag the room. But they had their own plan, and one of the Marines broke from the stack on the stairs and ran toward Arellano. Grenade in hand, pin pulled, Arellano made way for the Marine charging toward his room. The Marine who rushed past threw his grenade into the uncleared room.

“Frag out!” the Marine yelled.

There stood Arellano, holding a live grenade. He wasn’t about to try to put the pin back in, so he tossed his grenade into the room, too.

Arellano shouted, “Frag out,” only seconds after the first exclamation.

The first grenade had not yet exploded. Arellano feared that the Marines below would not realize that two grenades were cooking off.  Arellano’s mind raced as he scrambled for cover. He knew that his Marines were trained to rush a room the instant their grenade detonated, so as to take advantage of the stun effect of the explosion; he feared the Marines would charge up the stairs as soon as the first grenade blew. Arellano had to take action, and would only have a split second after the first explosion.

BOOM! As soon as the first grenade went off, the Marines below did just what Arellano had feared: they started up the stairs. Sergeant Arellano ran to the doorway to stop them. Glancing over, he saw his grenade in the room.

How could this be? Jason thought. Did the insurgents toss my grenade back toward the door? Did it bounce off something in the room, or did the first explosion blow my grenade into the open? No time now to wonder.

Arellano yelled, “Get back! There’s another grena…” BOOM!

Arellano’s life turned to slow motion. He saw everything clearly: the curtains rose in the room; smoke came through each crevice in the bricks, joined by sparks from the flesh-eating fragmentation coming through the mud-brick wall. The force of the explosion spun Arellano onto his hands and knees. The loud boom continued to echo in his ears; he was certain he was deaf.

His world collapsed down into a narrow focus. Had he saved his Marines? Had he kept them from the door?

As the world closed in, another thought filled his consciousness. “I’m hit, I’m hit!”

A distant voice tried to encourage Arellano. “You’re okay.”

Arellano tried to move around, but his palms slipped in a pool of his own blood. Dazed, breathing hard, and feeling weak, Arellano asked the Marine, “What do you mean I’m good?! Can’t you see I’m bleeding to death?”

Arellano felt the blood streaming from his neck, shredded by shrapnel. More metal fragments had ripped into his leg, only millimeters from his femoral artery. When others rushed to try to help him to his feet, he crumpled like a rag doll. It felt as if he were being electrocuted; the pain was excruciating. But he tried to remain as calm as possible, and tried to help as Marines removed his flak jacket.

Kilo Company Marines quickly cleared the house and hoisted their wounded sergeant to carry him to safety. He was dead weight; Arellano couldn’t do much to help as he was dragged down the stairs, head bouncing on each level. Moaning in pain, Arellano watched the wall, then the ceiling, then more Marines rushing into the house, and finally the dingy grey sky. He could still hear gunfire. Now he was lying in the street with the mounting numbers of other wounded, a corpsman cutting away his uniform. It was beautiful to be outside.

Lance Corporal Lenard had finally found his friend and squad leader. He rushed to Arellano’s side and reached down and grabbed his hand. Arellano squeezed Lenard’s hand as the corpsmen worked furiously to stop the bleeding.

“They are going to have to put a tourniquet on your neck,” Lenard joked.

“They better make it tight.” Arellano replied. Then he pointed to his crotch. “How am I down there?”

Smiling, “It’s gone, bro’!” Lenard quipped.

As he was rushed to the waiting AMTRAC, a cold chill engulfed Arellano’s body. Marines hurriedly placed him on the center bench, the back ramp was quickly raised, and the vehicle lurched forward, racing to get Arellano to Bravo Surgical in Camp Fallujah before he really did bleed to death. “Stop giving me morphine,” he told First Sergeant Knox. “I want to feel the pain so I don’t slip away.” Arellano reached to his chest and grabbed the cross dangling from his dogtag chain. He wondered if he would die, and tried to picture his family and Lindsey’s beautiful face. Would he ever see her again? Arellano would fight for his life to the end; he couldn’t leave Lindsey behind.

The other wounded Marines moaned and groaned with every bump in the road on a journey which seemed to take forever. Finally the casevac ground to a stop, the ramp dropped, and Arellano was whisked into the trauma unit.

Kilo Company’s 915 Block fight was the costliest of the entire operation. Five Darkhorse Marines were killed in the fight and more than a dozen were wounded. Read the entire story of the fight to free Fallujah in New Dawn: The Battles for Fallujah. If you don’t see it where you buy your books – ask for it.


[1] Sgt Jason Arellano telephone interview, 3/10/08.

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Jul 14th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
New Dawn Update

BookTV

A Gold Star Mother recently thanked me for telling her son’s story. She went on to say, “My biggest fear was that he would be forgotten.”

New Dawn tells the stories of our brave young men and women at war half a world away. Ed Iwan, Jason Clairday, Antoine Smith, Chris Adlesperger and Kevin Shea will all live forever in the pages of New Dawn. Please help me to tell their stories to the American people. Go to my facebook page. Post links to my sites. Tell your frineds. Buy a book and then post a review on the site of your choice.

New Dawn tells a story you will never forget.

New Dawn has already been nominated for the 2011 Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s ‘General Wallace M. Greene Award.’ The award is given to non-fiction writers who excel in telling the story of the United States Marine Corps.

In addition, New Dawn has been nominated for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in History.

My most honored endorsement recently came from a Marine Sergeant. He called me to tell me, “Your book is friggin awesome.” He went on to say, “I was there and it is ‘spot-on.’”

VISIT MY WEBSITE

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Thank you all for your continued support.

Semper Fidelis,

Richard S. Lowry

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May 29th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
Remembering Fallujah
Photo courtesy Maj Rob Bodisch, USMC

Photo courtesy Maj Rob Bodisch, USMC

Throughout our short history, the American warrior has been fierce yet compassionate. Free men who fight for our nation have motivation unequaled anywhere. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, coast guardsmen and Marines know that freedom is not free. They have sacrificed at Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, Belleau Wood, Normandy, the Chosin Reservoir, the Ia Drang Valley and in Kuwait.

Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who fought in Fallujah were no different; they paid a heavy price to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, many stories of these brave young men and women have gone untold. Among those heroes stood Juan Rubio, Jason Arellano, David Bellavia Jeremiah Workman, Nick Popaditch, Brad Kasal, Jeffery Lee and Todd Desgrosseilliers. They were just a few of many men commended for exceptional gallantry while fighting in, and around, Fallujah.

Nine Navy Crosses and twenty-two Silver Stars were awarded to participants of Operation Phantom Fury.

Marine Corps Sergeant Jason Arellano is one of my personal heroes, not because he charged into a house full of insurgents or risked his life to keep other Marines away from an exploding grenade, but because he led his squad, his Marines, through the bloodiest urban fight since Hue City, Vietnam, without losing a single man. Jason was the consummate squad leader. He led his men with determination, intelligence and attention to detail. There is no question that his Marines made it through the fight in Fallujah because of his leadership.

Jason was severely wounded in the bloodiest firefight of Operation Phantom Fury on December 12, 2004 when his company ran into a large group of fanatic diehards who had barricaded themselves in a block of buildings. Five Marines were killed clearing those fortified buildings and dozens were wounded. Many more would have been wounded or killed had it not been for Arellano’s selfless actions that day, warning fellow Marines of a live grenade and taking the brunt of the explosion himself. Jason nearly died in that explosion, but his fellow Marines were not hurt.

New Dawn tells stories of modern-day American heroes.

Jason wasn’t alone. US Army Staff Sergeant David Bellavia expertly led his squad through the fight too. On one occasion, Bellavia single-handedly cleared an enemy stronghold in a fight that degenerated into hand-to-hand combat. David was awarded a Silver Star after receiving a recommendation for the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The stories from that battle abound, but for me the hero of heroes was a Navy Corpsman, Juan Rubio. He didn’t go to Fallujah to fight, he went to save lives. Yet, he was in the thick of many horrendous firefights and was nearly killed himself while trying to save the lives of Marines and soldiers in his charge.

He braved enemy gunfire many times to treat the wounded. He frantically worked alone to keep soldiers and Marines alive long enough to get them to surgical care. In his last firefight, Juan suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury and is now retired on 100% disability. The Silver Star sitting on his mantle is not enough. We owe him a debt of gratitude for his selfless dedication to the Marines, the Navy, our nation and those in his care. We also owe our heartfelt thanks to all the young men and women who have gone off to fight our enemies in distant lands. They have risked everything for us.

Some fell at the hands of a hidden sniper; others died entering darkened rooms, and more gave their lives while trying to save their comrades. Still more American servicemen were wounded in the fight; some suffered superficial wounds while others were terribly disfigured. Gunnery Sergeant Nicholas Popaditch was one of the first Marines wounded in the fight in Fallujah. The Marine Corps was his home – his career. He was a Marine tanker, and a damn good one. Popaditch had fought in Desert Storm and had led the Marines into Baghdad in 2003. Then, on April 5, 2004, Popaditch and his wingman were in the first Marine tanks to attack into Fallujah.

After nearly twenty-four hours of fighting off repeated attacks, Popaditch was hit in the head with an RPG. The glancing blow knocked his helmet off and the explosion slammed him to the floor of his tank. His world went black. One of his eyes had been blown out of his head and the other mangled terribly. Popaditch’s gunner assumed command of the tank and rushed his Gunny out of the city to get him to medical attention.

Miraculously, the doctors were able to repair the mangled eye. Gunny “Pop” was out of the fight and his Marine Corps career was over, but the fight to free Fallujah was just beginning. The fight would be left to nearly ten-thousand soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and the vast majority of those servicemen simply did their duty. They fought a treacherous enemy and slogged their way from the northern edge of Fallujah to the southern suburbs, putting their lives at risk every step of the way. Many of those soldiers, sailors and Marines returned with emotional scars that they will carry for the rest of their lives. We owe them all a debt of gratitude.

All American veterans have a common bond. They have been willing to lay down their lives in defense of our nation. Today’s generation of young men and women are no different. They are the best trained, best equipped, most highly motivated fighting force on the face of this earth. These remarkable men and women are no different than the millions who went off to war in Europe, the South Pacific, Korea or Vietnam. They do not seek riches. They do not seek notoriety. They do their job for our country and the person standing on their right and left. On this Memorial Day, search out a veteran and shake his or her hand. Thank them for their service to our nation. Let them know that you know that Freedom is not free.

_________________________________________________

Since 9/11, Richard S. Lowry’s mission has been to tell as many of these stories as is possible. He has strived to tell the stories of decorated heroes and of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, as well as just plain ordinary men and women who are serving their nation in these turbulent times. He has recorded the story of Operation Desert Storm and the 2003 battle of Nasiriyah in three published books. Now, he is about to release his most compelling book yet. New Dawn: The Battles for Fallujah. It tells the story of America’s sons and daughters at war in the 21st Century. It tells the story of the largest fight of the war in Iraq. It is the first book to tell the entire story of Operation Phantom Fury and it honors many of the men and women who fought to free Fallujah. Their sacrifices turned the tide of the war in Iraq.

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May 5th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
Chapter 1 (Part 3) Fallujah: The Most Dangerous City in Iraq

The Marines’ Initial Response

Within hours of the Blackwater ambush on the last day of March 2004, the Marines moved to cordon off the entire city. Inside, the enemy prepared for the inevitable assault. Major General James Mattis and Lieutenant General James Conway, however, recommended restraint. The Assistant Division Commander, Brigadier General John Kelly, sought to temper America’s response in the Division’s daily report:

As we review the actions in Fallujah yesterday, the murder of four private security personnel in the most brutal way, we are convinced that this act was spontaneous mob action. Under the wrong circumstances this could have taken place in any city in Iraq. We must avoid the temptation to strike out in retribution. In the only 10 days we have been here we have engaged the “good” and the bad in Fallujah everyday, and have casualties to show for our efforts. We must remember that the citizens and officials of Fallujah were already gathering up and delivering what was left of three victims before asked to do so, and continue in their efforts to collect up what they can of the dismembered remnants of the fourth.

We have a well thought out campaign plan that considers the Fallujah problem across its very complicated spectrum. This plan most certainly includes kinetic action, but going overly kinetic at this juncture plays into the hands of the opposition in exactly the way they assume we will. This is why they shoot and throw hand grenades out of crowds, to bait us into overreaction. The insurgents did not plan this crime, it dropped into their lap.

We should not fall victim to their hopes for a vengeful response. To react to this provocation, as heinous as it is, will likely negate the efforts of the 82nd Airborne Division paid for in blood, and complicate our campaign plan, which we have not yet been given the opportunity to implement. Counterinsurgency forces have learned many times in the past that the desire to demonstrate force and resolve has long term and generally negative implications, and destabilize rather than stabilize the environment.

The Marine commanders did not want to further disenfranchise the people of Fallujah. They told their corps commander, U. S. Army Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, that they could find the perpetrators of the ambush and bring them to justice within two weeks. Sanchez passed on the Marines’ recommendation. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, however, was not impressed with the suggestion for a tempered response and ordered the Marines to attack. Conway and Mattis had delivered their recommendation as to how they thought they should respond, but when they received their orders, they—like any good Marines—unflinchingly obeyed
them.

The Fight Begins: Operation Vigilant Resolve

On April 5, 2004, U.S. Marines charged into the city, destroying enemy positions and killing every enemy combatant who stood in their path. One of the Marines driving into Fallujah was Gunnery Sergeant Nicholas Popaditch. Angered by the heinous murders of the Blackwater contractors and the insurgents’ claims that Fallujah was the graveyard of Americans, “Gunny Pop” couldn’t wait to get into the fight. His tank platoon was one of only two armor platoons deployed around Fallujah. Popaditch’s First Platoon was attached to Lieutenant Colonel Gregg Olson’s Marines. With so few tanks, Captain Michael Skaggs, the 1st Tank Battalion’s Charlie Company Commander, was forced to split up his platoons. His Second Platoon, under First Lieutenant Troy Sayler, was assigned to Lieutenant Colonel Brennan Byrne’s 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. The Marine tanks would operate in sections of two tanks each, and would be sent out to support the infantry companies as they were needed.

Olson’s 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, moved into attack positions in the northwest corner of the city on April 5, 2004, and Byrne’s Marines manned the cordon across town in the southeast corner of the city. On April 6, Captain Kyle Stoddard, 2/1’s Fox Company Commander, sent a small squad-sized patrol into the northern edge of the city to assess enemy strength. The squad was attacked within the first few blocks, and one of the Marines was wounded in the initial bursts of gunfire. Outgunned and
outnumbered, the squad called for reinforcements and a medevac. As soon as Stoddard heard the call for help, he ordered, “Roll the QRT.”

Gunny Pop, Charlie Company’s First Platoon Sergeant, was sitting in his tank under the railroad overpass in the northwest corner of the city, waiting as part of the QRT. Popaditch had been in Marine tanks his entire career. He had fought in southern Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm and had led the charge to Baghdad in 2003, where his tanks surrounded Firdos Square and toppled the large statue of Saddam. Straining at his leash, Popaditch asked Stoddard for permission to enter the city.

“Roll the tanks,” ordered Stoddard.

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