Saturday, November 27, 2004

Casualties of War

A truly incredible article about the battle in Falluja from KnightRidder:
Ward said he'd ferried at least 10 injured soldiers the night before.

"It's been very intense," he said. "For a lot of our younger soldiers, it's overwhelming." He wore a bracelet with the name "Marvin Sprayberry III" etched on it, just above "KIA" and "True Friend."

Sprayberry was Ward's best friend. He was a good man. He was killed on May 3 when the vehicle he was in rolled over during a firefight. That was all Ward had to say on the matter.
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When they got bored or scared of being on the rooftop, some of the men - young and with an awkward day's stubble on their upper lips - went outside and around the corner to see the Fat Man. "Hey dude, we're going to see the Fat Man, wanna come?" they said.

Their boots crunched hurriedly across the rubble outside the house and then slid down a muddy hill of trash and feces.

The Fat Man lay in his own blood. He was an Iraqi insurgent who'd hidden in an alley next to a garbage dump waiting for the Army to come by. A couple 25 mm high explosive rounds, shot from a Bradley, blew off his left leg, leaving a stump of bone, and, from the looks of it, punched a hole through his midsection. Two or three others died with him. A group of insurgents managed to drag the others away, but the Fat Man was too big. His arms were still splayed back from where his comrades tried to pull him through the narrow alley.

Some of his guts - perhaps an intestinal tract - were splattered on the wall. His eyes were open, peering out from his dirty face and scraggly beard, staring at the heavens. A traditional red-and-white checked Arab keffiyah headdress was wrapped around his waist, and a bag with slots for RPG rounds - all empty - lay on the ground next to him.

The Fat Man was the first dead person that many soldiers had seen. They grew solemn as they leaned over his body and peered into his eyes, but never too close, never close enough to touch his skin or take in too deep a whiff of death.
- - - - -
"When people say that war is the most terrible thing, they ain't wrong," Bowden said. "The things it does to people. You think that killing people for your country is cool, but when you do, it just numbs you."
- - - - -
The streets outside were littered with dead men, their corpses left for cats and dogs to gnaw on after the sun set. The sight of bearded insurgents, eyes open, lying in gutters was no longer a novelty.

Walking through the house, Ofori turned his gun toward a doorway. Shots rang out. A fighter in the room had been waiting with a grenade in hand. He'd probably been listening the entire time as the men sat on the sofa next door, their voices wafting through the holes in the wall.

When he jumped forward, he didn't scream "Allahu Akbar" - God is Great - as insurgents often did. He moved in silence, until Ofori's fire blew him back. Ofori looked down for a few seconds and walked out of the room. The soldiers behind him went inside to ogle. "Damn, look at Hajji," one said.

Walking into the garage, Ofori found a dead fighter lying on the ground next to a pickup truck outfitted with a machine gun.

Having heard of the incident, the New York Post wrote a headline calling Ofori a "Coney Island Hero."

His mother told the newspaper, "he doesn't like that Army food."

Later in the day, an RPG tore through the torso of Lt. Iwan, the company's executive officer, ripping his body apart. He was 28.

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