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Marines recall Ar Ramadi battle

16 Apr 2004 | Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald

Lance Cpl. Deschon E. Otey's nights are still plagued by thoughts from four days of intense fighting.

Otey and the rest of the infantrymen from Company E, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division lost nearly 20 of their buddies during operations in Ar Ramadi April 6-10. They're back out on the streets again, having exacted a heavy toll on the enemy for killing Marines.  Still, bouncing back is never easy.

In the mid-day hours of April 6, Marines from 3rd Platoon were patrolling the streets of Ar Ramadi when they began to receive fire.

"We had heard that Golf Company had been hit earlier," 21-year-old Lance Cpl. John R. Huerkamp, a 2nd Squad team leader, said. "A few minutes later we heard that the guys from 3rd Squad, 3rd Platoon had also been hit."

Otey described the first few seconds of the attack.

"I remember when we got to our objective I started to hear 'tink, tink, tink,'" Otey, 24-year old from Louisville, Ken. "I was like, 'Man, we're being shot at. Get out of the vehicle.'"

The squad returned fire for about 15 minutes. They then raided the house from where the shooting was coming.

"After we were done, we loaded back up and were heading back to base," Otey explained. "But then on the way back we got ambushed."

The squad's convoy was split, and two humvees were under heavy small-arms fire.
Otey immediately jumped out of the unarmored vehicle and sought cover behind a concrete wall. The rest of the Marines remained inside the vehicle and returned fire.

"Our vehicle was going to help (Otey's) humvee, but we didn't make it in time," Cpl. Marcus D. Waechter, 21-year-old from Mckinny, Texas, added.

No one is sure what happened in the moments before the other vehicles returned to Otey's humvee. Time and events are jumbled among the survivors and recollections sometimes don't match up from on Marine to another.

One thing is certain. By the time reinforcement arrived, all but one passenger in the truck was dead. The sole survivor was Otey who was still laying down fire from behind the wall.

Twenty-one-year-old Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Adam P. Clayton, senior line corpsman, remembered the scene vividly.

"When we got to the scene, we saw a humvee canted on the side of the road with the windshield shattered," said the Vernal, Utah, sailor. "There were dead bodies all over the place and the closer I got to the vehicle I could see it was covered in blood."

But it wasn't the sight of mangled bodies that disturbed the hospital corpsman.   It was a pair of military-issued glasses lying smashed on the ground. The glasses belonged to the truck's machine gunner.

"I'm still not exactly sure why seeing those glasses upset me so much, but the vision of them on the ground still gets to me," Clayton said.

One of Clayton's close friends, Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Fernando Mendezaceves was also riding inside the doomed humvee. It appeared Mendezceves died trying to save a Marine.  His body was found near that of 3rd Platoon's platoon sergeant. Clayton believes Mendezaceves was treating the staff sergeant before being shot and killed.

"We all took cover. There was firing coming from all directions," Otey said. "They were shooting AK-47s, RPK machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades."

After a fierce fight, the squad was able to gain control of the situation but not before losing most of their own Marines. The remaining Marines were divided up amongst the other two squads in 3rd Platoon.

Meanwhile, Huerkamp and his squad were already en route to help quell the remaining violence.

"We caught a ride on a 7-ton vehicle to the firefight and took up a security position on top of a roof," explained Huerkamp, of Lacrosse, Wisc. "I just started laying down suppressive fire."

That's when a sniper on the roof told Huerkamp a Marine was hit. Huerkamp ran to the aid of his close friend, Lance Cpl. John Sims, who was unresponsive.

"I asked him if he was alright, but he didn't respond to me, so I tried to find a gunshot wound," Huerkamp said. "His face was blue and his eyes were dilated."

He removed Sims' protective flak jacket and searched his upper body for a bullet hole. He found it underneath the Marine's left shoulder. After getting Sims to a secure position, Huerkamp and a corpsman began CPR and were able to feel Sims' weak pulse.

"We called for a medevac and were told a helicopter was coming," Huerkamp said. "But then they said that the bird was called off and a tank was on its way."

Once Sims was loaded up for transport to medical help, Huerkamp returned to the roof to lay down fire. About 20 minutes later, word came down to Huerkamp that Sims was dead.

"I was pissed. I didn't know what to do," he said. "There wasn't much I could do so I just went on doing my job."

The company continued to fight all over Ar Ramadi for several more hours before returning to the camp.

Several more days of fighting ensued.  More Marines were killed and injured.  Still, the enemy paid a higher price with more killed and wounded.

Twenty-one-year-old Lance Cpl. Geoffrey D. Lindsay, of Forest City, Iowa, was one of those wounded by enemy action.

"It's odd because we got hit on Good Friday," Lindsay said. "We were sweeping one of the roads for improvised explosive devices when one went off near the 7-ton I was the gunner for."

The explosion sent razor-sharp shrapnel in every direction, including into the left side of Lindsay's body. He fell to the ground instantly. The rest of the Marines dismounted from the truck to set up a security perimeter. That's when the second IED detonated, killing the vehicle's driver, Lindsay remembered.

"It was rough," he said.

Lindsay's wounds were minor. He's still recuperating and should be back on full duty within the next few weeks.

As the fighting progressed, the Marines didn't get bogged down with the losses of their brothers-in-arms. Instead, they pushed on with the mission at hand.

During raids throughout the week, the company, along with Company G, seized several hundred weapons systems and killed hundreds of anti-Coalition fighters.

The Marines find solace in one another.

"I talk with some of the other guys in the platoon about what happened, but it still hurts," Otey added. "Every time I walk into our living space I see the empty racks. Those were guys I used to talk to about my problems. Now I don't hear their voices anymore.

"We all know that we have jobs to do," Huerkamp said. "Most of the Marines are just dealing with losing their friends, but they still push on."