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Monday, September 3, 2007

Anvil of God

Anvil of God, Tom Foreman’s third report on the Iraq war, was a compelling, riveting look at the Battle of Fallujah, a battle predicted to last 6 days that stretched into five long hellish weeks. Using narratives, maps, interviews with the veterans of the battle, live footage, and dozens of still photos of the battle, Tom Foreman wove a story that transcended journalism, becoming an artistic canvas comprised of the many layers of Fallujah, its battle, its participants, and its sacrifices. Fallujah, a city whose roots stretch back 4000 years into antiquity, was the first and only substantial area the insurgents had tried to hold. U.S. Troops had been there before. They had fought a battle after the murder of 4 U.S. contractors, but in the end had been withdrawn when rumors of a mass slaughter of civilians surfaced.

Soldiers knew they would have to go back. They described the Fallujah radio constantly blaring propaganda, the manufacturing of car bombs, the increasing collection of guns, bombs, and other military armament. The Marines made preparations, stepped up training, checked logistics, moved their troops to the launch point. Civilians deserted the city in droves. Tensions rose. A battle was coming, a battle in which people would die.

Profiling Bravo Company, First Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, or the 1-8 as the men call it, Anvil of God follows them through the ensuing battle. The 1-8, called the tip of the spear, seemed to be on the forefront of the battle, the skirmishes with the insurgents, and the long drive through Fallujah. The 1-8 was no stranger to battle or terrorists, having survived the barracks bombing in Beirut in 1983. Again, they were no stranger to the overwhelming din of war, the cacophony of sounds, machine guns, missiles, rockets, yelling, mortar rounds, and the almost incongruous sound from giant speakers set up at the launch point of AC-DC playing “Back in Black”. And again, as in the past, these Marines would leave no man behind.

Using what an embedded New York Times reporter said was a classic battle plan, the Army encircled Fallujah with the Marines sweeping in from the west and the majority from the North. Called a hammer and an anvil, the Marines, the hammer, were to drive the insurgents before them to the southern end of the city where the Army, the anvil, would kill or capture them. The insurgents, though, knew the Americans were coming and had stockpiled weapons until as Tom Foreman said, Fallujah was as hard as an anvil, upon which both sides would begin to pound.

Following Bravo Company from the launch point to their first main objective, the cultural center, and then through the next five weeks of long sustained fighting, glimpses of the men in the company are given. Sgt. Lonnie Wells is the first to fall. He runs out in the road, leading the company across to the cultural center, and falls when a hell of tracer rounds breaks loose from every direction. A man runs to help him and is joined by a corpsman; both are shot. The Company, continuing across the street, look down to see tracer rounds zipping beneath their feet, realizing as they see their first comrades down that this is real, that they could die, that their friends could die. Finally, all are across including the wounded, but Sgt. Wells is dead. This death for Bravo was the true beginning of the fight for Fallujah.
Alternating between interviews of the veterans from the battle and a combination of video clips and dozens of still photos of the battle, the canvas of Fallujah grows with the battle; blood stains on the pavement, tracer rounds from all directions, snipers from the rooftops, insurgents hidden in the houses, hard fighting and no sleep, Bravo slogs ever forward towards that sixth day, which they have been told would be the end of the battle. On that sixth day though, tired with nerves on edge, one of Bravo’s snipers, Nick Ziolkowski or “Ski” as he was called, climbs to his rooftop perch. The men recall hearing one single crisp shot. Ski, their calm, cool, professional guardian angel who watched their backs from overhead and talked of college plans in off hours, was brought down on a stretcher, dying later at the Aid Station. The veterans recall how hard this was to comprehend so close to what they believed would be the end of their battle to a comrade that was so well liked by all.

The canvas of Fallujah enlarges more, as it is realized that as the Marines swept forward, insurgents circled back around, holing up in houses. Bravo is told they must go back through Fallujah in a terrifying door to door hunt to clean out the insurgents. Weeks followed as Bravo did as they were asked, their death toll climbing, each man that died a friend and comrade, a loss keenly felt by those left behind. Five weeks later, Bravo and the rest of the soldiers had prevailed; Fallujah was once more in American hands. But, the cost was high for Bravo, 13 dead, many more wounded.

Some of the veterans feel guilt at the losses even though they know they shouldn’t. When pressed for a reason why, Corporal Blake Benson said, “Nobody deserves to die out there like that.” But 13 did die out there like that – Lonnie Wells, Nick Ziolkowski, Kurt Bosselman, RJ Jiminez, Nathan Anderson, Billy Miller, Demarcus Brown, Gentian Marku, David Hoch, Joshua Lugero, Jeffrey Holmes, and Bradley Parker. Each one still remembered by their comrades, still mourned by their families and communities, still honored by their fellow Marines. The story of Fallujah demonstrates vividly that when the bullets start flying, the men of Bravo and all the other soldiers fought not for a cause, or because they were ordered to, or for their country; they fought for their brothers in arms, their comrades on each side of them, their friends, and their family in the Corps. As Tom Foreman said, “Through the heat, the fear, the fire and fatigue, the Marines were simply better fighters because they fought for each other.”

The canvas of Fallujah is complete with the insurgents driven out and unable to retake their city, because young determined honorable soldiers did what they were asked to do. As Tom Foreman says of the American soldiers in the end, “In this Biblical land they stood side by side, fought for each other and emerged unbowed on the Anvil of God.” ~Annie Kate


Karen said...

This wonderful synopsis of Anvil of God was posted on a blog devoted to AC360. I am a member of the 1/8 Bravo family -- a USMC aunt. I requested that the other blog correct the spellings of the names of the 13 Marines who lost their lives in Fallujah, and to add the 13th name. Would you please do the same? It would mean a lot to us. The names are:
Lonny D. Wells
RJ Jimenez
Nathan Anderson
Nick Ziolkowski
Billy Miller
Bradley Parker
Demarkus Brown
Dimitrios Gavriel
Gentian Marku
Jeffery Holmes
David Houck
Joshua Lucero
Kirk Bosselmann

Thank you so much! Karen

Anonymous said...

I was looking up some articles on my cousin Jeffery Scott Holmes and came across this blogg. Thank you for doing The Anvil of God for a memorandum to the lives given for and to our great Country, The United States of America! God, Bless America!

Thank you CNN, for taking time and money to do the things you don't particularly care for.

Sgt. Calabria said...

Bravest Men I ever served with! I will never forget this battle, especially the daily mission news while in Fallujah. Theres no great honor than dieing for your country. Or as past warriors have said it "come back with your shield or on it" These men/marines came back on their shields and I will never forget them! Snipers, Bravo, Alpha, Navy Corpsman, Weapons Company, SEALS, and Force! Salute