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We introduced Sgt Mark Seavey to you here, as he introduced himself to Congressmen John Murtha and Jim Moran:
"Yes sir my name is Mark Seavey and I just want to thank you for coming up here. Until about a month ago I was Sgt Mark Seavey infantry squad leader, I returned from Afghanistan. My question to you, (applause)Mark Seavey was talking about guys like Marine Lt Wade Zirkle, Navy Corpsman Joe "Doc" Worley, and the men of Pale Rider 3
"Like yourself I dropped out of college two years ago to volunteer to go to Afghanistan, and I went and I came back. If I didn't have a herniated disk now I would volunteer to go to Iraq in a second with my troops, three of which have already volunteered to go to Iraq. I keep hearing you say how you talk to the troops and the troops are demoralized, and I really resent that characterization. (applause) The morale of the troops that I talk to is phenomenal, which is why my troops are volunteering to go back, despite the hardships they had to endure in Afghanistan.
"And Congressman Moran, 200 of your constituents just returned from Afghanistan. We never got a letter from you; we never got a visit from you. You didn't come to our homecoming. The only thing we got from any of our elected officials was one letter from the governor of this state thanking us for our service in Iraq, when we were in Afghanistan. That's reprehensible. I don't know who you two are talking to but the morale of the troops is very high."
LT. WADE ZIRKLE, PLATOON COMMANDER: Some people, they ask me, if you had to do it over again, would you join the Marine Corps after everything you have been through? I look at them and I say, without a doubt.Capt. Christopher P. Niedziocha, USMC:
ZAHN: The platoon commander, a squad leader.
SGT. BILLY CONARD, SQUAD LEADER: Combat is combat. If you have never been there, you are never going to really experience what it's like.
ZAHN: And the platoon's medic. This is the story of their war and of the men they left behind. Their journey follows the evolution of the war, from the initial invasion to the chaos in the streets of Falluja, the elusive threat of suicide bombers and roadside explosives.
ZAHN (voice-over): Labor Day of 2004 and the men of Pale Rider 3, just a month from coming home, were on patrol. Over all those hours in Humvees, the men had grown close, especially the more senior Marines, Conard, Zirkle, and Corporal Mick Nygard-Bekowsky.
Back home in Concord, California, Mick's parents, Brian and Joan, were making plans for their son's return, less than a month away.
B. BEKOWSKY: We were talking about going fishing and riding motorcycles and just talking. He was he was gearing up to come home. He was ready to come home and live a little bit.
ZAHN: The Marines were well aware of the danger of thinking too much about home, smelling the barn, they call it. But nothing short of blocking the busy highway could have prevented what happened next.
CONARD: We were going to relieve 1st Platoon. And we were just -- just like we had always done, we loaded up, headed out in the area. And, boom, that's when it happened.
ZAHN: As Pale Rider 3, 45 Marines, including the drivers, drove along in a convoy of three 7-ton trucks and a Humvee, an Iraqi suicide bomber drove a small pickup alongside the lead truck, where Wade Zirkle was riding, and detonated a massive bomb.
CONARD: I looked down. I had a radio. And I was making sure the handset was screwed in nice and tight. And about the time I looked up, I just saw this huge fireball ahead of us. And it was -- you are -- kind of shock and awe. You're like, wow, it all just happens.
I told myself on the way up there I'm going to see some things I figure I need to prepare myself for, some things I won't like. And it was just utter chaos. We got up there and the truck was just pretty much obliterated. It was -- for a big truck, it was just looked like someone had taken a can and just crumpled it.
ZIRKLE: I remember the initial pop that I heard. And then I was unconscious for I guess about a minute when I get thrown out of the truck. A huge explosion had gone off. And I couldn't really see very well, but I could tell that I'd probably lost some Marines. And it turns out there were seven Marines that were killed in the bomb.
ZAHN: Zirkle was blown out of the truck, his hands severely burned.
CONARD: I remember coming out and I saw him laying outside of the truck. And I was -- I was kind of stunned, because I saw him laying there. He didn't have any of his gear on. I guess it was blown off in the blast.
ZIRKLE: My corpsmen, Doc Santos (ph) and Doc Worley, ran up and started treating the Marines that were injured and saved -- I know for sure saved one life of a Marine and definitely, definitely...
ZAHN: Only five of the 12 Marines in the truck survived. Doc Worley, traveling in a truck behind, sprinted to the scene.
WORLEY: And you can't really touch anybody, because you have to literally run around every single person and see, get a general quick, quick -- I couldn't even touch them, really -- as quick assessment of how bad everything was and who I needed to start on, because there were things -- running around left and right saying, you know, Marine, come over here. Put your hand here. If I don't see you putting every bit of pressure you can on this, I'm going to come over and hit you.
Lay your head near his nose about every 10 seconds. And if this guy stops breathing, you scream for me so loud that there's no way I can miss it.
And you just run off. And you come back to them whenever you can.
ZAHN: Among the dead, Mick Nygard-Bekowsky.
J. BEKOWSKY: And my mom called me on my cell phone to tell me to rush over, to come over to her house. And I heard it in her voice. I didn't realize it, what was going on. I thought there was another issue that I had to go handle. Maybe she fell.
B. BEKOWSKY: I did the same thing. You tell yourself that it's got to be some other thing.
J. BEKOWSKY: Well, I thought to myself, it was another thing. I never even thought about Mickey (ph) until we were driving home or driving to her house. Then it dawned on me, this is what I may be coming into. But, you know, there were two Marines at her door. And it was -- it was really bad for my mom. It was hard for her.
ZAHN: As the Bekowskys prepared to bury their son and Wade Zirkle was evacuated to Germany, Pale Rider 3 was disbanded, its surviving members sent to different platoons. They had lost too many men to continue as a unit.
Doc Worley and Billy Conard were transferred to another platoon. And a short time later, they were hit again by an improvised explosive device, a roadside bomb.
CONARD: I watched the whole thing happen. I was on the radio. He was running. Then, all of a sudden, there was an explosion. And when it cleared, he was just laying there. So, instantly, I thought he was killed, also. So, I called it in. We had another KIA.
And I looked away and I looked back and I saw him sit up. So I called back that he was still alive. And about that time, the Marine was making his way to him. So, at that time, Doc Worley, I hollered at him, asked if he was all right. He said no. He was started to put his own tourniquet on, take care of himself. Then he had the other Marine assist him a little bit. Then he got the morphine, put a little morphine in him to ease the pain. And they put him in a vehicle.
ZAHN: Doc Worley's war was over, his leg gone, many painful operations ahead, but a profound appreciation of life, friendship, and God.
WORLEY: God gave me the strength to just roll over and just start working on myself and put a tourniquet on my own leg and save my own life. That was something that God gave me the strength to do. And I have come away from Iraq with some of the greatest friends I could ask for and just about Job's faith in God.
ZAHN: Faith, love, grief and pride, the emotions they carried home.
BEKOWSKY: I know the Marines that they are fighting for their country, they're fighting for our freedom. And I have been told the only way for a Marine to die is on the battlefield. So, these Marines died doing what they loved. And that's how it makes it easy for me to deal with. The worst part for all of us was knowing that six families, seven families, were going to get notified that they had just lost a son.
ZAHN (voice-over): In Falluja, a field memorial, seven Marine boots lined up next to the three of the Iraqi special forces killed. And, in California, Mick Nygard-Bekowsky came home. He was buried in his hometown.
WORLEY: How are you doing, sir?
ZIRKLE: What's going on? How are you?
WORLEY: I'm doing great.
ZAHN: In Doc Worley's hospital room in Washington, D.C., Zirkle and Worley reflect on their experiences.
WORLEY: All these people taking care of me. I have got -- I can do 1,000 different jobs coming out of this if I wanted do, where people -- people are so awesome.
I mean, I am convinced that I can get a job on a marathon team and they would give me the job, just because they have so much love and respect for their -- the veterans, that they would give me a job. I would sit on the bench all the time, obviously, but, by God, I would be there wearing the shirt. And, you know, there's just almost too much support to ever acknowledge. It's been awesome.
ZIRKLE: Some people, they ask me, if you had to do it over again, would you join the Marine Corps after everything you have been through? I look at them and I say, without a doubt.
JOAN BEKOWSKY, MARINE'S MOTHER: He died with pride. And I'm very proud of my son. I miss him. I wish he didn't go. I wish he didn't die. But I am very proud of my son.
BRIAN BEKOWSKY, MARINE'S FATHER: I want people to remember that these kids, these boys and girls, these high school students, barely out of high school, are willing to go and do anything that we ask them to do, not because of politics, not because they are going to get any kind of fame out of it, not because they are going to get money, just simply because we ask them to do it. I want people to ask themselves what have I done today worth somebody giving their life for me?
ZAHN: The men and women on the front lines as well as their families are the real story of this war.
A Marine from King of Prussia received the military's third-highest medal yesterday for "gallantry in action" in Afghanistan.Staff Sergeant David Bellavia
Capt. Christopher P. Niedziocha, a 1996 graduate of Upper Merion High School, was presented with the Silver Star during ceremonies at the Naval Weapons Station in Norfolk, Va.
Niedziocha, 27, was a platoon commander with the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit when his convoy was ambushed in June 2004 near the village of Sandabuz, Afghanistan.
"Under heavy rocket and small arms fire, he aggressively guided the convoy through the ambush, and then led a small unit of Marines in a counterattack up steep terrain," according to a Marine Corps statement. "The Marines dislodged the enemy fighters and neutralized remaining enemy forces with direct fire and close air support."
Niedziocha, who joined the Marine Reserves in high school and went through officer candidate school while getting his bachelor's degree from Pennsylvania State University, was sent to Afghanistan in February 2004.
Four months later, Niedziocha, then a first lieutenant, was leading his platoon on a patrol when they were fired on by members of the Taliban from steep, rocky hills on three sides of the Marine column.
"We just pushed right through the fire - we went right into the kill zone and ambush," Niedziocha said.
Jumping out of their humvees, he and his men returned fire. Three Marines were wounded. After checking on them, "I started to grab Marines... and we started heading up the mountain."
In the fight that followed, Niedziocha said 23 Taliban fighters were killed and two were wounded and captured. And if it weren't for body armor and some very near misses, "we could have had four or five Marines killed that day."
So Staff Sergeant David Bellavia returned for his third tour of duty - this time in Iraq. Last November - on his 29th birthday - his brigade was searching homes for insurgents in Fallujah. Fierce gunfire broke out, his superior officers were killed, and David found himself in charge. He killed six Iraqis - keeping his unit's casualties to three wounded. His bravery was chronicled in Time Magazine.And now Mark Seavey emails that he, Wade Zirkle, "Doc" Worley, David Bellavia, and Christopher Niedziocha, along with Knox Nunnally and Owen West have formed a group called Vets for Freedom.
“I think it's very difficult to stand here and say I'm a hero when I'm standing on my own legs and I can hug my own wife and pat my son on the head and give him a big hug and kiss with my own arms,” said David. “My son means everything to me, and the men I was privileged and honored to serve in combat are my surrogate kids. When I hear them cry and I hear them scream out in pain it's really difficult to take and it's really hard.”
Bellavia's tour of duty is over and he's home for good, but as far as he's concerned, his responsibility to his men isn't over.
“I'm gonna’ try to help out my brothers at Walter Reed right now with no legs,” said David. “The wives that left their husbands over in Arlington Cemetery and explain to some of these kids when they're old enough what their daddies did that they're patriots and they're heroes, and I miss 'em every day.”
Wade Zirkle says:
The Global War on Terror is being fought on two fronts. Our troops are performing magnificently in Iraq fighting a tough and dirty enemy. We are winning in Iraq through a combined military, political, diplomatic and economic effort . However, we are losing the war for the will of the American public to see this conflict through because of the distorted means by which it is too often portrayed.
Inaccurate or politically inflamed media reports and policymaker statements based on rumor, speculation and even nonexistent events place an almost singular focus on negative aspects of the conflict versus any attention to many successes that take place almost daily. Those of us from the frontline have a much different view, but for reasons beyond our understanding, our perspective has been largely ignored. Vets for Freedom seeks to change this environment, providing viewpoints both positive and negative on what will be needed to achieve victory.
Read more about their mission here. Join the team.
Glad to see this post! I introduced my readers to SSG Bellavia and Vets for Freedom on 18 Feb.Posted by Laurie at March 21, 2006 06:58 PM
Groups like this are an a priori example of "The New American Militarism." These vets seem to dismiss any that hold opinions contrary to their own. Funny, I wonder how an O-3 (my own rank) and an E-6 are able to confidently declare "we are winning" when looking at their own, narrow "lane" of the action. O-3s and E-6's don't make US foreign policy ... that's a very good thing.
This type of "love it or leave it" rhetoric is not "discourse." It's in your face militarism - the type of political partisanhip within the military that our founding fathers warned against.
Wade Zirkle talks about a "distorted lens" ... perhaps he should wipe the mud off his own goggles before attacking other people's opinions. I'm glad you've figured out "what it takes to achieve 'victory'" - I don't think anyone has come up with that plan yet. Damn, I wish we old LTs in the 10th Mountain were as smart as you.Posted by IRR Soldier... at March 22, 2006 05:10 AM
I don't suppose our founding fathers could have forseen soldiers picking and choosing which campaigns they wish to particpate in either.Posted by LJD at March 23, 2006 04:41 PM Hide Comments | Show/Add Comments in Popup Window(3) | (Note: You must refresh main page to view newly posted comments here)