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10 Years Later, Camp Pendleton Marines Remember The Battle For Fallujah

Reported by Katie Schoolov, Nic Mcvicker

Hundreds of Iraq War veterans are gathering this morning at Camp Pendleton.  They’re commemorating the ten-year anniversary of the “second” Battle for Fallujah. This was the fiercest combat of the Iraq war and the deadliest urban battle for the Marines since Vietnam. KPBS reporter Susan Murphy has more on what the anniversary means for the Marines now.

Hundreds of Iraq War veterans are gathering Friday morning at Camp Pendleton to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the second Battle for Fallujah.

Hundreds of Iraq War veterans are gathering Friday morning at Camp Pendleton to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the second Battle for Fallujah. This was the fiercest combat of the Iraq War and the deadliest urban battle for the Marines since Vietnam.

Photo credit: U.S. Dept. of Defense

A U.S. Marine watches through a hole in the wall insurgents running through the streets of Al Fallujah, Iraq, during Operation al Fajr (New Dawn) on Nov. 9, 2004.

Even today, 10 years later, it’s hard for Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Torain Kelley to talk about some things that happened during those six weeks in Fallujah.

“We had people shooting at us from up on the rooftops, from the houses, from the sewers or wherever they could take a shot at us from,” Kelley said.

The fighting was intense. Almost 100 Americans died; 600 others were injured.

Kelley was part of the 1st Marine Division from Camp Pendleton. The mission for the 6,500 Marines: root out insurgents house by house, block by block.

It was the second time Marines entered Fallujah that year. In the spring, days after four American contractors were killed, their bodies strung up on a bridge, the Marines went in to clear the city of insurgents.

In the months between those battles, insurgents in Fallujah regrouped. They planted explosives, stockpiled weapons and dug elaborate tunnels for hideouts. That was what Marines like Kelley, other U.S. forces and coalition troops walked into.

“You had to be smart," Kelley said. “Be thinking on your feet the whole time, and at the same time have to have control and not pull that trigger … cause you still had innocent people running around the city, so you had to be really careful.”

At one point, a rocket-propelled grenade hit Kelley’s Humvee. He and five others were injured.

Photo credit: U.S. Dept. of Defense

A U.S. Marine watches through a hole in the wall insurgents running through the streets of Al Fallujah, Iraq on Nov. 9, 2004.

“As we took a left turn and started moving down the street, we got ambushed, which made us take another left turn down another street as we got hit with RPG rockets trying to move away from the ambush,” recalled Kelley.

Miguel Carrasco was a 19-year-old combat correspondent during the battle.

“My part was taking photos, documenting, telling the Marines’ stories while they were going through this big battle,” Staff Sgt. Carrasco said.

But shooting pictures often came second to shooting a gun.

“Sometimes they would need me to be an extra weapon, and I had to put down my camera, which was the case a lot of the times,” Carrasco said.

The Marines eventually took control of Fallujah and secured the region through 2010.

Maj. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson commands the 1st Marine Division now. He said the fight for Fallujah is just as notable as famous World War II battles in Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal.

Photo credit: U.S. Dept. of Defense

U.S. Marines huddle behind walls as they receive instructions about their next move after a M1A1 tank eliminates the Iraqi insurgents in a house the Marines were receiving fire from in Fallujah, Iraq,

“This will become an iconic fight that will be studied,” Nicholson said. “I think by military leaders for a century. And I think there were so many positive aspects of how this fight occurred that I think need to be remembered."

Remembered for its tactics and strategy of fighting block by block.

After the Marines left in 2010, the Iraqi government took over security for Fallujah. The embattled city fell to Islamic State militants in January. Nicholson said he's disappointed.

“Our tagline for this has always been: We did our job, we did it well and we’ll just leave it at that,” he said.

Nicholson said commemorating the 10-year anniversary of the battle is an important way to honor those who served and those who died.

“That was a very successful fight, a very costly fight, an important one, and I think we need to honor it,” Nicholson said. “And that’s what we’re going to do.”

The event at Camp Pendleton Friday is expected to draw more than 500 veterans. Retired Lt. Gen. Richard Natonski, commander of the 1st Marine Division during the battle, will be the guest of honor.

“We’re going to have guys out here who haven’t seen each other in 10 years,” Nicholson said. “That’s going to be pretty emotional.”

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