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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

1/5 recalls battle for Hussein's palace


Submitted by: MCB Camp Pendleton
Story Identification Number: 2003627134649
Story by Pfc. Macario P. Mora Jr.

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif(June 26, 2003) -- EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second installment in a two-part series on 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment's experience in Operation Iraqi Freedom

In comparison to the final few days of Saddam Hussein's regime in Baghdad, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment's deployment as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom was routine: lots of waiting in the desert, scattered firefights and a brief stay in a squalid trash dump in Iraq during one of the swiftest infantry advances in modern warfare history.

And while "the mother of all battles" Saddam Hussein predicted never materialized, some clashes were ferocious enough to make U.S. Marines feel like anything but orphans untouched by the surreal hand of vicious warfare.

For 1/5, one of those battles took place on April 10 outside of a presidential palace belonging to Hussein, whose grip on the city by this time was precipitously slipping through his fingers.

By the end of that fateful day, the battle had accounted for 75 percent of 1/5's casualties in action ? a toll that by the end of combat totaled two dead and 88 wounded.

It all started before dawn.

"We got orders to take control of one of Saddam's palaces along the Tigris River. We were working alongside special forces, the Green Berets," said Cpl. Brandon S. White, a rifleman with A Company who by the end of the day would be touched in several ways by the battle of April 10.

"We moved into Baghdad at about two or three in the morning. It was quiet. ... but three or four minutes after rolling into the city, I heard this 'pop, pop' noise," said White. "I'm looking and looking to see where the shots are coming from and I see tracers whizzing past the hood of my (humvee). They were shooting from the windows. These people weren't on the street, so I started shooting out the windows where I saw flashes coming from. We were shooting as we were moving."

"All of a sudden, all of your training just kicks in," added Lance Cpl. Anthony W. Reed, a 7-ton truck driver. "It was surprising. ... all of the stuff you learned in boot camp comes back to you in times like these.

"It was hard, because we were told we were going into heavy fire," said Reed. "So I was somewhat unhappy at the thought of dying."

"The only reason we were there was because we were given coordinates and told that somebody had seen Saddam there," said 1st Lt. Joshua L. Glover, commander of 1st Platoon, C Company and a Dallas native.

On the way, the Marines met with A Company's gunnery sergeant, Jeffrey E. Bohr. Later that day, he was killed in a firefight.

"After we moved out, we talked to (Bohr)," said White. "We were having a cigarette; the sun was starting to come up. He said, 'hey, you guys did a good job, just keep your heads down and you'll know what to do.' That was the last time I saw him.

"We moved through the city and made a wide right turn and stopped," said White. "I was shaking, I remember shaking real bad. It was scary. I was sitting in an unarmored, soft-skin, high-back (humvee) with a (load) of ammunition in the back. An RPG (rocket propelled grenade) would have done us in. We got lucky. We didn't get hit, but we sure got fired at.

"I remember sitting there for like 10 seconds, but it seemed like 30 minutes," said White. "I didn't want to stop. I wanted to keep moving, because when you're stopped there, you're a sitting target."

Then, 1/5 stepped up its assault on the palace compound.

"I remember .50-cal (rifles) lighting up a tower. He just ripped that thing up. I just watched it crumble. We started going again and then stopped because a track broke down.

"About 30 minutes later ? it seemed that long, but combat time makes things seem like forever ? we started moving again.

"We went straight down the road and made a right down the street. At the second intersection we went through, the tracks were receiving fire. Just as I was bringing up my weapon to shoot, I got shot.

"I was yelling at my driver 'I'm shot, I'm shot!' He gave me a bandage, and I remember pulling off my green glove, seeing a hole and realizing that I had been shot in the arm. Blood just poured out all over my leg. I didn't know if I hit an artery. I panicked for a second in my mind. ... I thought, 'Oh my God, I'm going to bleed to death."

The intersection turned out to be a killing field.

"We were the first (humvee) to go through the intersection," said White. "I didn't know it then ? I do now ? ... (Bohr) was shot in the head ... and died instantly at that same intersection just after dawn."

A corpsman rapidly attended to White and stabilized his wound. Shortly thereafter, White received what for him was the worst news of the war.

"... I was pretty drugged up, and I remember screaming 'give me my pack, give me my pack, they have my pictures in it!'," said White. "They brought it to me. I remember sitting in the (tracked vehicle) . ... and I saw some boots from underneath a black body bag. I knew it was my gunny. I ... broke down and started crying.

"They then threw me on a chopper, and I remember a feeling of relief to be getting out of there. I also had the fear of getting shot down in the aircraft. Then the gunners opened up and I remember clenching from the sound of .50-cal. This is all going a mile a minute in my head. Then I thought about how pretty it looked from up there, and I broke down and cried. I cried for the loss of my gunny and stuff. It was a tough day."

Other 1/5 Marines concurred.

"We were at the cross-section and my radioman turned to me and said, 'Sir, that $150 combat pay isn't making me feel too good right now,'" Glover said.

"That night was such a crazy night," Reed said.

"That was the worst day we had (searching for Saddam)," Glover said. "We found out later that a lot of those fighters we fought on that day were Syrians. They were Syrian Muslims who came in to fight us, along with Saddam's guys.

For Staff Sgt. Gerardo Betancourt, the 2nd Platoon sergeant with C Co., any doubt about his fellow Marines' fortitude was put to rest that day.

"One thing that hits me," said Betancourt. "All throughout history, we read books about devil dogs who back in the day were heroes and always kept going even under fire. Yet, that night in Baghdad, we experienced the same thing.

"I'm one of the worst critics of our Devil Dogs, but that night when they started shooting at us, (the tracked vehicles were so full) that some had to sit on top. And when they started lighting us up, they just sat on top and started fighting. Nobody was scared, nobody was ducking, just once they started shooting at us, we started shooting back. And I was pretty impressed that they carried on the same traditions that have always been there."

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