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thedrifter
05-11-03, 09:04 AM
Departing Marines recall hard times, humor


By Rick Scavetta, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Saturday, May 10, 2003



CAMP PATRIOT, Kuwait — Marines from Company A, 2nd Amphibious Assault Battalion may be able to scrub Iraq from their gear but not from their memories.

The Marines, like many troops who fought in Iraq, are beginning to head back to Kuwait to wash the grime of war from their bodies and their vehicles before heading home.

As they cleaned up this week, they talked about their time under fire, where they faced fear and found humor. One day in particular, stood out in their minds: March 23.

“There was nothing funny about that day, when we went through Al Nasiriyah,” said Lance Cpl. Randy Hardie, 22, of Kansas City, Kan. “We were taking fire. I remember seeing dead people all over and body parts.”

During the March 23 attack on Nasiriyah, two Marines were killed: Sgt. Michael Bitz, 31, of Ventura, Calif., and Marine Cpl. Kemaphoom A. Chanawongse, 22, of Waterford, Conn., said company commander Capt. William Blanchard, 29, of Neptune, N.J. Three more Marines were wounded, he said.

During a break from cleaning Monday at a portside camp about 30 miles south of Kuwait City, the Marines also recalled some of the strange and amusing moments in combat.

Like the sergeant who used an unstable crate for his toilet break. It broke under his weight. Or another sergeant who haphazardly tossed a shaving cream can into the bonfire. When it exploded, the sergeant thought he was under mortar fire and went face down on the deck, the Marines said.

Cpl. Mike Dailey, 26, of Sumter, S.C., ended up in a sewer when Iraqis broke underground pipes to create traps for the Marines’ amphibious tracks.

“It looked like dirt, but it wasn’t, and we sunk,” Dailey said. “And we were under fire for eight hours.”

Dailey left his duffel bag behind, along with $1,000 worth of tattooing equipment. The guys on his track all left things behind: compact disc players, photos of their sweethearts.

Then there was the Iraqi who made several futile attempts over a half-hour to fire a rocket-propelled grenade at the Marines. When he finally launched the grenade, it exploded on the wall in front of him, killing him rather than any Marines.

Nights were tough for troops in Iraq. Wild hounds, dubbed Fedayeen dogs for the Saddam loyalists the Marines fought, would bark and howl, disturbing the few hours Marines had to sleep.

“They would stop just before you have to wake up,” said Cpl. Josh Fugler, 22, of Walker, La. “You could set your watch by it.”

After Nasiriyah, Blanchard’s company headed north and west, eventually stopping in Kut along the banks of the Tigris River.

One night at Kut, Staff Sgt. Daniel Mangrum, 26, of Jacksonville, Texas, was trying to catch some sleep when the first sergeant woke him up with a message from the unit chaplain.

“Congratulations, you’re a father,” the first sergeant said.

Seven hours earlier, Mangrum’s wife, Ryan, had given birth to a 7-pound, 8-ounce girl named Kaitlynn at Portsmouth Naval Hospital, Va.

“Then I couldn’t sleep,” Mangrum said. “I thought of a million different things. All these images of her growing up.”

On May 3, the batallion began pulling out and heading for Kuwait. This week they board the USS Ponce for a slow voyage back to the States. Their command said they will have a four-day port call in Malta to “chill out,” said Hardie, who had an RPG pass near his head and could care less about a visit to the Mediterranean island.

"I’d just rather go home," Hardie said. “When I came here I was hoping to see some [expletive], now I regret it.”

His fellow Marines nodded in agreement.


Sempers,

Roger