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Utah Marines Recall Their -Trial by Fire, Bloodshed
A U.S. Marines Reserve company from Utah and Nevada was part of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force that pulled out of Baghdad over the weekend, leaving a trail of victorious battles, but also tragedy, lasting heartache and death. The troop pullout left Baghdad under the control of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, which "provides a unity of command for the city," the Pentagon said in a statement Monday.
Before the pullout, the Marines had controlled the eastern half of the city while the Army controlled the western side after bringing down the regime of Saddam Hussein.
The Marines now have moved about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad and are situated around Nasiriyah, where last month nine Marines died and eight U.S. soldiers were taken prisoner in surprise engagements with Iraqis.
Among the dead on March 29 was Staff Sgt. James Cawley, 41, of Layton, who was crushed to death when a coalition Humvee rolled over him amid the chaos of a sniper attack in the dark, early morning hours. Injured in that same accident was Capt. Harry Porter, 32, of Midvale.
The next day, Porter was among nine Marines awarded the Purple Heart aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort. Porter and Cawley's Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines, pushed ahead to Baghdad.
The 180 reservists from Utah and Nevada, dubbed the Saints and Sinners, were engaged in fierce firefights within hours of entering the Iraqi capital. On April 8, nine in their company were wounded and an Iraqi family died.
The Reserve Fox Company did not have the armored vehicles available to other units, wrote New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins from Baghdad. As the battalion moved deeper into the city, the reservists from Utah and Nevada got out of their trucks and walked.
The first Iraqis they saw came out to hug them.
"When we first got to Baghdad, a little girl, who was maybe 11, gave me a rose and thanked me for my services," said Lance Cpl. Roger Anderson, 28, Clearfield. "It was very touching."
Then the cheering stopped, and the firefight began.
"We were ambushed and I was hit in the arm by shrapnel from an RPG [rocket- propelled grenade]," Anderson said. "It was something I don't ever want to see again."
Anderson and the eight other wounded Marines from his company were helicoptered out.
By dusk, "the life of the Kachadoorian family came to an end at an intersection here," wrote Filkins. When bombs had rained down on their neighborhood, the Kachadoorians, a family of nine, piled into three vehicles and drove, unknowingly, into one of the biggest firefights of the war.
"Volleys of machine gun and mortar fire fell upon the Marines, and they took up positions on each side of Baladayat Street," Filkins wrote.
"It was all so confusing. The Marines up the road were calling to the Kachadoorians to stop, to turn around or they would shoot, but there was too much gunfire and apparently too much noise for the Kachadoorians to understand.
"Margaret Kachadoorian, the mother, leaped from the blue Mercedes and shouted in English" that she and her family were "the peace people!"
By then, the shooting was over. Dead, in a row of three cars, each behind a steering wheel, were her husband, James, and her two sons, Nicolas and Edmund.
"The Marines of Company F, cut off and under intense Iraqi fire, said they had not meant to kill the Kachadoorians, and when they saw what they had done they went out into the street to bring them in," Filkins wrote.
"We did the right thing and went out and got them," Filkins quoted Staff Sgt. John Liles as saying, "Every one of us was in tears."
Today, Anderson has shrapnel the size of a 50-cent coin embedded between the bones in his forearm from the Baghdad firefight. Physicians recommended against surgery and are opting to allow muscles to grow around the fragment. He faces months of therapy.
On Friday, Anderson flew to Utah from Camp Pendleton, Calif., via an angel flight, in which individuals loan their aircraft to ferry wounded military personnel home.
Among his wounded buddies was Cpl. Scott Lee, 25, Ogden, who credited his minor injuries to Anderson's taking the brunt of the explosion. Lee is now traveling back to Fox Company.
"He is doing well, but they told him they wouldn't send him home, and he really wanted to be back with his boys," said Lee's wife, Melanie. "He said that if he made a big stink they might not send him back, and if he didn't go, he might regret it the rest of his life."
Both Anderson and Cpl. Wayde Broberg, 26, Midvale, were hospitalized in Landsthul, Germany, last week when Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, dropped by. As Matheson was handing out brightly colored pictures and letters from elementary students of the Alpine School District, a hospital staff worker mentioned that down the hall were Marines from Utah.
"I said I'd be delighted to see someone from Utah, and I was even more gratified when I found out these were Marines from Fox Company," Matheson said. "They have accomplished much and have gone through a great deal."
Broberg has since returned to his Midvale home.
Matheson had met the company last summer when 1st Sgt. Nick Lopez, a Salt Lake City firefighter, wrote, saying the men were homesick and would appreciate a visit at their Camp Pendleton base. In January, the reservists in Fox Company were preparing to go home when their deployment orders were extended for a second year. They shipped out to Kuwait, where they began their march to Iraq.