Lance Corporal Joel Murray, USMC

I first thought about joining the U. S. Marines when I was 12 years old. That dream became a reality in December of 1999 when I completed my basic training at Parris Island. At that time, I never dreamed I would be in a war; but it happened. I was home on leave in December of 2002 when I got the call. I was told my leave had been cut short and I was to report immediately to Camp Lejeune. After we got everything ready my unit (2nd Amphibious Assault Battalion, Alpha Company) shipped out on the U. S. S. Portland.

After crossing the ocean and going through the Suez Canal, we finally arrived at Kuwait. There we occupied Camp Shoope. While we were there I bought a U. S. flag.

Our first major action was at An Nasiryah, a Southern city in Iraq that earned the name “Ambush Alley”. Our mission was to cross the city and secure two bridges. In An Nasiriyah we took on mortar fire and heard explosions all around us. We could also hear the whistle of the shells flying through the air. When I heard the sound of those shells I was reminded that I needed to be on my toes, ready for anything, not knowing when one would come my way.

As the grunts moved through the streets, I observed the action from the back hatch of our amtrack. Behind me I saw three Iraqi tanks sitting on the side of the road. They had been taken out by our attack helicopters. One of the tanks was smoldering as a result of secondary explosions. Seeing nothing else, I closed the hatch. I knew the action was just ahead.

Soon the order came on my radio to sagger. That meant we needed to zigzag the amtrack in order to avoid being hit by enemy fire. As I looked ahead, I saw an unusual sight. I saw orange and white cabs speeding up and down the streets. When the chaos of the moment settled in my mind, I realized that the cabs carried Iraqi fighters who were shooting at us as they passed by. That was one of the hardest things about fighting in Iraq. It was hard to know who were the allies and who were hostile. I couldn’t tell who the enemy was. No one was in uniform.

Anyway, everyone was firing round after round. But that didn’t last very long. Soon, we got the order to slow down and not fire so much. Web (my fellow amtracker) and I, and other amtrackers found our spot on a city block near one of the bridges. We were able to secure the bridge but we had to maintain our position while taking on RPGs and mortar fire.

The tanks were not much help because they had to return to a rallying point to be refueled. So we had to maintain our position without the help of the tanks.

Amtracks are designed to operate with .50 caliber guns and.40 caliber. As was the case on a lot of amtracks, the .40 caliber was not working on our vehicle. We had to rely on one gun to protect us and maintain our position.

When we stopped the vehicle, the grunts disembarked and the action began. It was my job to help my buddy (Web) load ammo and spot the enemy. As I was observing the situation, I saw one black-robed figure moving in the shadows. I told Web and he fired shots, but the guy ran around a street corner and out of sight.

Another man on the same block ran from one of the buildings and headed toward a vehicle. My buddy (Web) shot at the vehicle. The guy tried to get in the vehicle but the door wouldn’t open. A few minutes later he tried to get in the vehicle through another door. Just then, Web fired another round at the vehicle and this time the vehicle exploded, taking the guy out.

Another man ran for his life, and was shot down. I watched as he got up and started running again. Imaging the pain that a machine gun bullet can inflict, I was surprised that the man got up, and I said out loud, “You should stay down!” Web fired again, and the man fell. This time he did not get up.

All through the battle, we were taking on fire. It seemed like a long time. At one point, we heard gunshots followed by dead silence. And then messages came on the radio saying that some marines were badly wounded.

I was lucky not to be hit. One RPG was fired at the amtrack next to us. It skipped off the ground and hit the side of our vehicle but it did not explode. Another time an RPG was fired at our vehicle, but just before it found its mark, a grunt on the ground (whose sights were off) fired a bazooka which knocked down a nearby telephone pole. The incoming RPG hit the telephone pole and was deflected away from our vehicle.

During a lull in the battle, I took the flag that I bought at Kuwait and decided to fly it over An Nasiriyah. The perfect place happened to be a monument to Saddam Hussein. With the help of my buddies, Sgt. Dahn and Cpl. Gordon, I strung the flag on the rifle of the statue. Another marine took our picture in front of the statue. It was kind of funny because it looked like Hussein was holding the American flag. There were others who took pictures of the event as well. Even a colonel got a photo of Hussein holding Old Glory.

I am out of the Marine Corps now, and am adjusting to civilian life; but Operation Iraqi Freedom is one experience I will never forget. My time in Iraqi will forever be with me; especially the memory of the sights, sounds, and smells which I took in at An Nasiriyah.