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09-26-07, 02:18 PM
Realities of war
20-year-old recovers in Middletown after serving, being wounded in Iraq

by Jeremy Long, Press And Journal Staff : 9/26/2007


THANK YOU - Lance Cpl. Denny Salisbury, 20, wears a “Thank You” blanket while in transport to Germany from Iraq, after he was injured in a road blast in April. Submitted Photo

Lance Cpl. Denny Salisbury, today a decorated Iraqi war veteran, was a freshman at Kelseyville High School in California when 9/11 happened. When he watched the events of that day unfold he decided to join the U.S. Marine Corps.

“That’s when I started thinking about joining the military,” explained Salisbury, 20. “Someone had to stop terrorism and I thought I could be a big part of that.”

While his friends were heading off to college, Salisbury was heading to the Recruit Depot San Diego for boot camp.

After a year of training to become a Marine and learning how to perform his duty as a TOW (Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided missile) gunner, Salisbury was headed for Fallujah, Iraq with the 2nd Battalion 7th Marines.

That he had entered a war zone never sank in, he said, until his first day in Iraq. “When we were driving to the base we took sniper fire and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m at war,’” explained Salisbury as he spit his chewing tobacco into an empty water bottle.

He picked up the habit of chewing because it was too dangerous to smoke.

“Snipers would look for rose-buds (lighted end of a cigarette),” explained Salisbury. “It was a lot safer to chew [tobacco].”

Salisbury described Iraq as “scary all the time,” a “crazy country,” “poor,” and “hot.” He describes the nonstop explosions and gunfights all around him, at all hours of the day. He explained that for about a month or two he was shot at everyday.

And as for Iraq being hot, the Iraqi war veteran recalled that on July 1st when he left Iraq, the temperature was a scorching 132 degrees Fahrenheit.

Good with the bad
Despite the negatives, the young man was able to find some joy during his time in Iraq.

“There were a lot of fun times in Iraq,” said Salisbury. “You get to see another culture and bond with your friends. You get to know all your friends [to the point] where you can see them in the dark with their gear and know who [is there] without them saying a word. There were some fun times but there were some horrible times.”

A routine day for Salisbury and his platoon would consist of foot patrols, talking with civilians, handing out candy to kids, and sleep depravation.

“Sleep deprivation. That’s No. 1 right there. Everyone is so tired,” said Salisbury.

Normally, he and his platoon would be away from their Camp Fallujah base two weeks at a time, patrolling about five other cities north and south of Fallujah.

“We would go outside the wire [Camp Fallujah] and go out for two weeks to a city.”

After those two weeks the platoon would return to the base to refuel and rest for three days before heading out for another two weeks. However, for a day and a half after they got back to the base, they were on quick response, which meant if another unit was in trouble they would call and Salisbury’s unit would come to help.

While in another city away from their base, Salisbury and his unit would actually stay in civilians’ houses.

“We would ask if we could stay there and if they said no, then we found a different place,” he explained. “If they said yes, then we would pay them money to stay there and when we left we would clean up after ourselves.”

The 16th of the month
A month into his deployment the decorated veteran encountered his first experience of war. “My first mission out, Feb. 16, I was blown up,” recalls Salisbury.

While he was being shown the Area of Operation, the Humvee in front of Salisbury turned around. When his Humvee went to do the same, a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) detonated, sending a three-story fireball into the air and giving everyone in the Humvee a concussion.

“[The blast] rocked our truck pretty bad,” Salisbury recalled. “It put holes in the transfer case and the tire. My door popped open. It spider-webbed the windows. It was a trip.”

A month later – on March 16 – Lance Cpl. Salisbury got into his first firefight.

“That was actually pretty fun, I’m not going to lie,” said Salisbury. “I was fighting terrorism.”

The next month is when the harsher realities of war set in.

On April 16 Salisbury and his squad of five Humvees were sweeping a road for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) when a car shot at the lead Humvee. That Humvee pursued the car and Salisbury’s Humvee took pursuit as well.

That was when Salisbury’s vehicle was struck by an IED.

“I remember it was a bright day,” explained Salisbury. “I just put my eye protection back on and the next thing I saw was darkness and I felt like I was floating through the air.”

The explosion killed Salisbury’s platoon commander instantly and sent the 10,000-pound Humvee hurdling through the air. The Humvee landed on its roof before it came to rest on what was left of its wheels; Salisbury was temporarily knocked unconscious.

“It blew our truck apart. It ripped it in half,” he explained.

The force of the blast sent the Humvee’s engine block and front axle 200 yards down the road, Salisbury said.

When Salisbury regained consciousness he immediately moved out to help his wounded comrades, not realizing that he, too, was wounded.

“My gunner had the radio mount wrapped around his ankles and I couldn’t get him out,” Salisbury continued. “Then I ran around the truck and saw my friend there with blood gushing out of his head. I immediately grabbed his med kit and applied pressure. I don’t know if I put his brains back in is head but when I applied pressure it felt gooey.”

Salisbury said that about five minutes passed until help arrived. While he was attending to his friend the rest of his unit was checking the road for other IEDs.

When help arrived, he finally noticed that his right knee and down his pant leg and boot was soaked with blood.

“I grabbed a rifle from one of my friends coming up to help and posted security,” explained Salisbury. “I was the only one moving around out of the five guys in my truck.”

Salisbury received second-degree burns to his face and injuries to both of his legs, as a result of the explosion. He also suffers from traumatic brain injury, short-term memory loss, concussion syndrome and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He had to have surgery on his ankle.

After the attack, Salisbury was transported to an aid station and eventually to Qatar, before he was sent back to Iraq.

Upon his return to Iraq he suffered from PTSD.

“A gunshot or explosion would freak me out and that’s the PTSD,” he explained.

After the military looked into Salisbury’s condition further, he was sent to Germany to recover. Despite what he’s suffered, Lance Cpl. Salisbury said he would do it again.

“For the sake of my friends, I would do it again,” he said.

Salisbury spent about five months in Iraq.

Currently, Salisbury is on leave from 29 Palms, the base in California where he is stationed, until Oct. 1. He is staying in Middletown with his mother Denise Heile. His grandfather Robert Cochenour, his grandmother Bernice Williams, and her husband Robert Williams also are from Middletown.

He is still in physical therapy, talking with psychologists, and going to concussion clinics in an attempt to fully recover.

After he returns to 29 Palms, he hopes to fill out paper work and be transferred to a Marine Reserve Unit, until his enlistment runs out in 2010.

“I will still be active duty,” explained Salisbury. “I’ll just be helping out the reservists.”

He would like to transfer to the 25th Marines located on 2nd Street in Harrisburg. This way he can be closer to his mom and help her out as she awaits a kidney transplant. As if Salisbury hasn’t given enough, he is considering donating his kidney.

Once his enlistment runs out in 2010 Salisbury plans on attending college.

During his service, Salisbury received six decorations: the Purple Heart, the Global War on Terrorism Service, National Defense, Overseas Service, Combat Action, and the Iraqi Campaign.

Lance Cpl. Salisbury believes that everyone should support the troops.

“I know we need the support over there,” said Salisbury. “Since I’ve been home I’ve been flicked off because of the Marine stickers on my car. Just don’t be like that ’til you’ve been there.”

The first time Lance Cpl. Salisbury has seen Ground Zero – his reason for joining the Marines – was on Saturday, Sept. 22.

“I’m extremely proud of him,” his mother told the Press And Journal. “[I’m] sad that’s he’s hurt. I hope he is young enough to get over it. I’m just glad he came back home.”