View Full Version : Journal notes the long march into Baghdad

07-06-03, 10:35 AM
Published: Friday, July 4, 2003

Soldier's view of the war in Iraq
Journal notes the long march into Baghdad

By Katherine Schiffner
Herald Writer

The green journal is the size of a slim paperback book. The canvas cover is torn to make room for a pen, and its edges are frayed. Inside is a simple description: "Journal of War."

Someday, Jeremy Cleaver will show it to his grandchildren.

Cleaver, 20, who grew up in Marysville and graduated in 2001 from Marysville-Pilchuck High School, took the journal with him when he was deployed to the Middle East on Feb. 2 with his U.S. Marine Corps battalion.

The journal gives a firsthand account of one soldier's experiences in Operation Iraqi Freedom, from the 122-degree desert heat to the night they were attacked by Iraqis firing rocket-propelled grenades.

Cleaver had intended it to be just another way to pass the time, along with football and spades, as the unit waited in the barren Kuwaiti desert seven miles from the border with Iraq.

The journal quickly became his release.

"I wrote in it as often as I could," said Cleaver, who had never kept a journal before. "It let me get things off my mind."

Cleaver returned from Iraq on May 22. During a visit to his father and stepmother's Marysville home, Cleaver said he shows his journal to anyone who asks about his experiences at war.

"It helps other people -- my family, my friends -- understand what I went through," he said.

Cleaver returned to his base in Camp Pendleton, Calif., on June 21. A lance corporal in the Third Amphibious Assault Battalion, Cleaver took the journal with him when he drove a 26-ton amphibious assault vehicle into Iraq on March 18. His battalion was one of the first to enter Iraq.

He participated in several intense firefights, including a battle in Baghdad on April 10 in which his vehicle was hit by two rocket-propelled grenades. One grenade shattered a front headlight, and the other hit the side of the vehicle but didn't cause major damage. One Marine was killed, and another 10 were injured in the battle.

"People can sit there and say we shouldn't have done this and that, but for me, seeing how happy the people were when we got there (and) freed them from Saddam Hussein made it all worth it," he said.

As Cleaver's battalion approached Baghdad, they rolled through villages where residents wore tattered clothing and drank from canals that had garbage floating in the water, Cleaver wrote.

"I cannot see how they live like that," he wrote. "Makes me appreciate what I got and how I grew up."

The four months he spent in the Middle East left a lasting impression, he said.

"I can remember with scary detail every dead body I've seen out here," he wrote in his journal. "It's not something that I really want to think about, but it's hard not to. I'll never be able to forget (what) I've seen."

Reporter Katherine Schiffner: 425-339-3436 or schiffner@heraldnet.com.

Lessons of battle were learned quickly

While he was stationed in the Middle East, U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jeremy Cleaver, 20, a 2001 graduate of Marysville-Pilchuck High School, kept a record of his experiences he called a "Journal of War." Cleaver is a crew chief with the Third Amphibious Assault Battalion and served on board an amphibious assault vehicle during the war. Here are some sections of his journal:

Feb. 15, 2003: (Clever and his battalion arrived in Kuwait from their base at Camp Pendleton, Calif., 12 days earlier. They were seven miles from the Iraq border.)

"The day we left was probably the worst feeling I can remember. Nervous, scared, excited, everything all at once. I didn't eat almost the whole day. ... So here I am, in the middle of the desert. There is nothing out here at all. Barren, it sucks. ... We know what our first objective is. It should be easy, considering we are hitting them all at once. Military may not even be there. If they are, it would be smart to surrender. With all we are rolling out there with, if they try to fight, it will be over before it begins. So I'm not too nervous, just a little concerned ."

Feb. 26, 2003: "Today I have had a huge reality check. First off, it started out like a regular, bladdy blah day. Then the three most feared words by Marines, 'Gas, gas, gas.' I have never seen anybody move as fast as we were moving. People (threw) on their gas masks, they were running around yelling, nobody knew what had happened. ... Sgt. Fluri asked me if I was scared. I said a little bit. ... There was word that the front gate was attacked with gas ... So we sat for a while so they could test the air and found out what was going on. Come to find out the air was all good and we didn't get gassed."

March 18, 2003: "Well, combat is a pretty confusing thing. ... We operated all night. We were engaged by antiaircraft guns, then the tanks that were with us blew that ... up. We hit our objective just as it was getting light. ... After they came at us shooting, (they) hit Lt. Childers, then tried to raise a white flag. ... Lt. Childers died shortly after. I honestly didn't think any of us were going to get hit, but I guess I was wrong. War is definitely not what I thought it was going to be. I've seen more death and destruction in one day than a normal person sees in a lifetime. People blown the hell up, body parts, brains on the road. ... The rush is incredible though, addicting."

March 26, 2003: (About 130 miles outside Baghdad.)

"This isn't fun anymore. ... The enemy is fighting back hard. And it's more scary than anything right now. Especially at night. This is their home, so they have an advantage when it comes to knowing where to ambush us. This uncertainty is not a good feeling."

April 9, 2003: (Outside Saddam City, a part of Baghdad.)

"I'm parked in some family's driveway right in front of their house. The man that must own it is very happy to see us. He came out and gave us a bunch of bread. I'm sure probably all they had. We tried to turn it down, but the guy insisted that I take it. It was good bread. The people are so happy to see us it's unbelievable. People crying, kissing their hands and throwing them to the sky as if we were God-sent. ... At first, we came here because of chemical weapons, but now I know we are here to free these people. It makes it all worth it to see how happy they are. I'm giving people their freedom. I would trade all the ribbons, all the money, to know that they are free."

April 10, 2003: (At one of Saddam Hussein's palaces, in Baghdad.

Cleaver's assault vehicle made it through an attack by Iraqis firing rocket-propelled grenades, but other soldiers were injured.)

"Constant shooting and fighting the whole time. Worst time of my life. The most scary thing I've ever seen. But, somehow, by the grace of God, only one was killed and about 10 were hurt. Mostly from shrapnel. ... Too many close calls for one day. So happy we made it."

April 23, 2003: (Outside Baghdad.)

"It's time to get ready to leave, go home. All of our ammo is turned in, my guns are no longer loaded. ... Everybody is in good spirits, for the most part. It's hard for me to fall asleep at night, though. I'm still in that mind-set of war, I guess. Spend a lot of time at night thinking about what I've seen, done, and how I'm never going to look at life the same way again. ... I still feel like I could have done more, or should have, or more like (I) wasn't given the opportunity. .... Oh well, I'm alive. And have gained a lot from this whole experience. I joined the Marines for adventure, to see the world. Well, I'm living that dream."

(Cleaver returned to the United States on May 22. After a visit with his family in Marysville, he went back to his base on June 21. )


U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jeremy Cleaver, 20, a 2001 graduate of Marysville-Pilchuck High School, stands in front of one of Saddam Hussein's palaces in Baghdad. His battalion was one of the first to enter Iraq. He returned to the United States in May