Four pairs of best friends went to war … only four men came home.
“Nobody really knows what’s going on the ground in Iraq,” remarked Congresswoman Jane Harman of the powerful House Intelligence Committee in a recent press conference. Nobody, that is, except the grunts in the squads and platoons fighting the war. In my new book, We Were One, I give the men on the ground the opportunity to tell their story, in their own words, from boot camp to the Iraq war’s toughest battle -- Fallujah.
Among the Marines who conquered al-Qaeda’s greatest stronghold in November 2004 were four sets of best friends, all in 1st Platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment—“3/1.” When the battle finally ended, 1st Platoon had suffered thirty-five casualties. Of the eight best friends, only four men survived. We Were One describes a group of men who can only be called the next “Greatest Generation.”
In We Were One, I write from a unique perspective, because I marched—and fought—alongside the Marines, even as the fatalities mounted. I have captured the sensory details as well as the human drama of men fighting and dying for each other and their country best described in this excerpt from We Were One:
"At the same time 2nd Squad was being ambushed, Sergeant Bennie Conner’s 3rd Squad was drawn into an ambush on the opposite side of the buildings. I was accompanying 3rd Squad.
Conner recalled how it happened:
“I went walking up to this southern wall of the house. There were a couple bricks missing that I could get through, so I pushed the wall in and Hanks follows me. At this point, I’m not sure where the rest of the squad was at. The next thing I came up to was a window, and I came face-to-face with a fighter. This son of a bitch looks like Yasser Arafat in his younger days. He had a red towel on his head. He had a dirty, dark-green coat on. I raised my weapon to shoot him through the window, but the ground was at a slope and you know I’m only 5’3”. I didn’t have a good shot. If I pulled the trigger, I would have shot the ceiling. I was going around to the door to get a better shot. I guess this guy heard me. He just spun around and pulled the trigger on his RPK. I thought to myself, ‘Sh**!’ I dropped to the ground. It felt like someone socked me in the arm, and I spun around. I remember talking to myself and wondering if I was dead. I backed up and looked down at my arm and saw some red—I didn’t realize how bad it was until later..” Conner had at least one bullet in his upper arm and a fragment in his forearm.
“Hanks, watch out! I’m hit, I’m hit!”
Hanks yelled back, “Conner’s hit!”
Patrick K. O’Donnell is the author of We Were One: Shoulder to Shoulder With the Marines Who Took Fallujah as well as three previous books: Beyond Valor, winner of the prestigious William E. Colby Award for Outstanding Military History; Into the Rising Sun; and Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs.
He is also the founder of the Drop Zone, an award-winning online oral history Web site. He lives in Virginia.
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