Thursday 27 March 2003
For them, the war is over. A few U.S. soldiers were half the way home on Thursday, bearing wounds inflicted by Iraqis they thought they were liberating.
Two army soldiers and one marine recounted to journalists how they came under fire at the weekend from Iraqi troops in civilian dress at the city of Nassiriya, scene of some of the fiercest fighting to date.
"We were very surprised. We were told when we were going through Nassiriya that we would see little to no resistance," Marine Lance Corporal Joshua Menard told a news conference at the U.S. military's medical facilities at Landstuhl, Germany.
A group of Iraqis in civilian clothes opened fire on Menard as he and six other marines approached them on a bridge near Nassiriya on Sunday, he said.
"We were more prepared for what happened in the Gulf War when they turned over and surrendered most of the time... They weren't rolling over like we thought they would," Menard, 21, from Houston, Texas, said, with his left hand bandaged.
Beside him, in hospital robes, sat Army Staff Sergeant Jamie Villafane and Sergeant Charles Horganof the First Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment. They told of being hurled out of their Humvee jeep by an Iraqi missile in a separate attack.
"The amount of resistance, some of it I don't understand. I mean we're there to help them to get them out of the regime. But you have to understand they are being threatened to fight against us," said Villafane, 31, from Long Island, New York, his heavily bandaged left arm resting on a pillow.
JUST LIKE THE MOVIES
Villafane said his battalion had been briefed that Iraqi soldiers might disguise themselves in civilian clothes, but he was still surprised when it happened.
"It was a shock that they would actually do that given the treatment we try to give them. We try to treat them fairly... I guess they have to do whatever they have to," Villafane said.
Horgan, 21, from Helena, Montana, said he was less surprised to see Iraqi troops fighting back.
Horgan, whose right leg and foot were ripped open when he was blown from his gunning position, described seeing an incoming missile and barely having time to warn his colleagues before it struck.
"It was just like in the movies. I thought 'Oh my God, I'm going to die'," he said, adding he feared as he was thrown to the ground that he might lose his legs.
"I looked down and saw I had my legs. I was pretty relieved about that."
The three wounded men said they felt a sense of guilt at leaving friends behind in Iraq.
"I'm relieved that I'm out of that sort of thing. I'm also kind of sad that I'm not with the guys who protected me," Horgan told reporters.
All three will head for the United States for further treatment, Horgan needing extensive physiotherapy if he is to walk again.
Villafane said that before the war he had already had thoughts about ending his term in the military, after 12 years of service.
"I made a decision before this actually started with my family that I was going to get out... This kind of just put the icing on the cake," he said.
Horgan said his thoughts were more on recovering.
"Nobody can be shot and say 'Wow, I really want to go back out there. That was great'," he said.
The three also said they hoped any anti-war sentiment at home would not turn into acrimony against soldiers.
"You may be against the war, but don't be against the soldiers there who are fighting it. I joined to serve my country but when I was there I was fighting to protect my friends," Horgan said.
Landstuhl, America's largest military hospital outside the United States, is currently treating 72 patients from "Operation Iraqi Freedom," 24 of them wounded in combat. Five are in intensive care. The hospital is expanding to 320 beds, doubling its normal capacity.
Families of Ft. Bliss Soldiers Begin Asking Hard Questions
by Scott Gold and Tom Gorman
Los Angeles Times
Thursday 27 March 2003
FT. BLISS, Texas -- Jamaal R. Addison, 22, a straight-A student who joined the Army days after graduating from high school to secure a future for his infant son, is dead.
And for what? That's what Addison's relatives wanted to know late Wednesday as they struggled to absorb the Pentagon's confirmation that the Army specialist had been killed in battle.
In all, military officials said Wednesday, 15 Ft. Bliss soldiers from the 507th Maintenance Company had been captured or killed by Iraqi forces.
The numbers seem to rise each day, and tough questions are percolating at this west Texas military base.
"We just found out. My mind is just messed up right now," said Rodney Fisher, 23, an Amityville, N.Y., resident who went to high school with Addison and later became his stepbrother when his mother married Addison's father.
"I never thought there was a reason to go to war in the first place. This sure as hell doesn't make it any better. This was a good man. He didn't deserve this. This whole thing is nonsense."
Last weekend, about three dozen soldiers from the 507th -- cooks, welders, drivers and mechanics who provided support to a Patriot missile battalion and did not expect to see combat -- were trying to connect with an infantry division in southern Iraq. Near Nasiriyah, the site of some of the fiercest firefights so far, the group apparently made a wrong turn, military officials have said.
They were ambushed by Iraqi troops. U.S. Marines were able to rescue more than half of them. The military has confirmed that two were killed, eight are missing and five -- soldiers whose images were captured on video by Iraqi fighters and broadcast across the globe -- are prisoners of war.
The identities of six more of the soldiers were confirmed Wednesday. Those classified as missing include Master Sgt. Robert J. Dowdy, 38, of Cleveland; Pvt. Ruben Estrella-Soto, 18, of El Paso; Chief Warrant Officer Johnny Villareal Mata, 35, of El Paso; and Sgt. Donald Ralph Walters, 33, of Salem, Ore.
Killed were Addison of Roswell, Ga., and Army Pfc. Howard Johnson II, 21, of Mobile, Ala.
"Our mission is to nurture the living, care for the wounded and honor the dead," Ft. Bliss chaplain Fred Hudson said in an interview Wednesday evening. "And at this phase, we are honoring the dead."
Hudson said families connected to Ft. Bliss suddenly have a host of questions for military officials, depending on the circumstances their relative is in. Families of the dead typically have questions about legal, financial and emotional concerns. Families of the wounded want to know when they can be reunited. Families of POWs want to know what kind of conditions their loved ones are being kept in.
"The families who are really hurting are the families whose loved ones' whereabouts are unknown," Hudson said.
"That's a horrible situation. You are waiting any day for the worst. That's a very difficult and very sobering thing to deal with."
One of those families is that of Walters, a decontamination specialist.
"After the military came to the door last night and told us, officially, that he's listed as MIA, it really hit," Walters' father, Norman, said Wednesday.
"I was stunned. It's like it's not real. I couldn't comprehend it. Today is bad. I'm really feeling down. I was shaving this morning and all of a sudden, I was crying."
Norman Walters was in the Air Force for 20 years, and Donald liked the discipline and the military environment while growing up in Colorado. Donald joined the Army in 1988, served in the Persian Gulf War in 1991, joined the reserves and then reenlisted in the Army about a year ago. He and his wife, Stacie, have a 9-month-old daughter named Amber.
"About a week ago, we talked to him by phone," Norman Walters said. "He was notifying us that he was going to be going in very shortly. He was nervous about it, but he wanted to get in there. He was anxious to get in there and get it over with so he could come home."
Although the media have sought to report on the families of the captured and slain, military personnel asked reporters Wednesday to respect the families' privacy. In a statement, Ft. Bliss officials cautioned that statements from the families "could be used to coerce and manipulate soldiers who are being held prisoners of war."
The message appeared to carry weight with some, including the family of Dowdy, the master sergeant who is two years away from retirement. "I've been instructed by the military not to talk about my brother," Jack Dowdy said from his home in Hawaii. "Anything we give can be used by the Iraqis against him."
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