View Full Version : War images fresh for Marine

07-07-03, 06:49 AM
Posted on Sun, Jul. 06, 2003

War images fresh for Marine
Columbus man saw friends die in attacks
Staff Writer

The bridges of An Nasiriyah.

To those who fought in what was the bloodiest single-day battle in the Iraq war, those bridges represent what the halls of Montezuma, the shores of Tripoli, the Chosin Reservoir and Mount Surabachi mean to the Marines who preceded them into battle.

"I try to explain to my friends back home what it was like at An Nasiriyah," said Columbus native Cpl. James Cabarrus, on leave from his permanent duty assignment with the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C. "But it's really impossible, though that day is as clear in my mind as any day before or after."

March 23, 2003. Two months before Cabarrus' 22nd birthday. He'd worked his way up to squad leader, and though he's still a young man, those that report to him are even younger.

"I like the responsibility," he said of his job. "When you have to worry about the safety of 10 men, there's very little time to worry about your own safety. I like it that way."

Cabarrus and the rest of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force had little to worry about except for the swirling sand during their first two days in Iraq. What little resistance they had met was dispatched like an old MRE carton.

On the morning of the 23rd, with the mission of securing two critical bridges on a road that passes through An Nasiriyah, a city of 300,000 people about 200 miles from Baghdad, the Marines roared into town.

Cabarrus' mind raced back to his history classes at Jordan and to his Bible when his convoy approached the bridge that spanned the Euphrates River.

"For some reason, I started thinking about the Tigris and Euphrates when we tried to cross the bridge into what was called Ambush Alley," he said. But thoughts of ancient history were quickly put aside when the first rocket propelled grenade barely missed his amphibious assault vehicle, called a track.

"They say you start getting serious when the first shot goes over your head," said Cabarrus, without the slightest hint of a smile.

For the next four hours, the Marines in A, B and C companies were engaged in heavy fighting.

"If you saw 'Black Hawk Down,' you have some idea of what we saw that morning," he said. "We were the first across the bridge; the first off our track. We immediately got into a defensive position.

"We called in everything we had -- mortar fire, tanks, Cobras, helicopters.

"One of the tracks behind us got hit by an RPG. You could see inside it because of the huge hole. You could see dead Marines. It hurt bad that we had lost brother Marines. All I wanted was revenge."

Eighteen Marines were killed that morning; one platoon suffered 11 KIA.

Alpha Company, Cabarrus' group, did not suffer a single casualty. Charlie Company was hit the hardest.

Cpl. Patrick Nixon, who had gone through boot camp with Cabarrus, was dead.

So, too, Pfc. Tamario Burkett, who had gone through infantry training with Cabarrus.

Cabarrus and his buddy Cpl. Dimyas Perdue did a lot of praying and talking during the ordeal.

"It's good to have somebody you can talk to in a time like that," he said.

Though he'd been in the Corps since July 2000, everything prior to March 23 had been practice. Then came game time.

"You never really know how you'll react until the bullets start flying for real," Cabarrus said. "But I feel good about myself. I was able to do my job, under fire, and keep my men alive."

The firefight was so intense that it was difficult for rescue helicopters to land and evacuate the wounded. They had to be taken out of the area by tracks.

"The Iraqi forces were much stronger than we expected," Cabarrus said. "But we were able to get the job done."

The Expeditionary Brigade eventually made its way to the town of Al Kut, which ironically meant crossing the Tigris River.

"But we never made it to Baghdad," Cabarrus said.

Since he's been back home visiting his mother Bernetta and his three sisters, Cabarrus has been following the war on television.

"I have an uneasy feeling about what's going on over there," he said. "Half of me says I'm happy to be home and away from that place; but the other half says I should be back there with my fellow Marines. There's still a lot of work to be done."

Cabarrus, who admits he was influenced to join the Marines by their television commercials, said he'll probably make the military a career.

"It's been a challenge, that's for sure," he said, this time with a slight smile on his face. "But I think I've been up to it."

Contact Mick Walsh at (706) 571-8588 or mwalsh@ledger-enquirer.com