I sat down to write a quick Thanksgiving greeting to family and friends and I was drawn back to November 2004 where I experienced what I’m sure will always be the most memorable Thanksgiving of my life.
It all started with members of my unit being deployed in this insurgent stronghold in Mid October, where we “laid the groundwork” for the 3rd Battalion/1st Marines, who would be moving into the area to remove entrenched insurgents, many foreign, who had taken over this once prosperous city. Most of the civilian population had deserted their homes and left the city, not wanting to get in the middle of what they correctly assumed would be a bloody and destructive battle. There were pockets of insurgents throughout the city. They had erected road blocks and set up ambush points in anticipation of the coming coalition forces. Our job was to identify these spots, locate the pockets, and provide this information to the 1st Marine Regiment. They later used this information to plan their push into the city. We were the “inside” eyes for a 6,000 strong force. On November 8th, the second Battle of Fallujah began and all hell broke loose. What ensued has been described as the most intense door to door battle US forces have experienced since Hue, South Vietnam. By mid-November most of the resistance was taken out, but “mopping up” took until Christmas to totally secure the city.
By the time Thanksgiving came around, my unit was sneaking around the city, locating these pockets and directing larger forces, including air strikes, in subduing the enemy.
On November 22nd we are “hiding” in a deserted building trying not to be detected. A half block away was a group of about 25 foreign insurgents, mostly Arabs and Yemenis, trying not to be discovered either. We were greatly outnumbered. During the night we discovered a group of 11 woman and children hiding in the basement of the building right next to where these guys were. An air strike was ruled out. Our mission was to evacuate the civilians so that a larger force could effectively deal with the enemy insurgents. Over a twelve hour period we got them all out and they ended up holed up in our building, awaiting the attack on the insurgent force by British Forces. By the next day, Thanksgiving, the insurgent force had been killed or captured.
So there we are, Thanksgiving Day with a bunch of hungry woman and their kids. All we had to eat was a bunch of MRE’s. The woman had some tea and bread, that was hard as tack, and a few plums.
Now get this picture… a squad of Marines, 3 woman and their hungry kids sitting in a circle passing our rations around and “feasting” on chicken and dumplings, beef ravioli, meatloaf and gravy, plums, and bread. As we ate, I looked around the room and was reminded of the first Thanksgiving, and I felt that our “feast” was a fitting tribute to this revered occasion in our country’s history. A 5 year old boy sat on my lap and shared eating out of a packet of Ravioli. Bob was throwing small dumplings up in the air and catching them in his mouth, which got the kids laughing.
After what was probably the toughest fighting any of us will ever experience, after the carnage, the death and destruction, after evacuating two of our wounded buddies, and seeing many of our “own” killed and maimed and killing scores of our enemy… This was our little reminder that there was some humanity left in the world. We shared a moment of “normalcy”. Although, we came from different worlds, we found a way for us share each other’s humanity.
So as I wish you a Happy and blessed Thanksgiving and for all the my Thanksgivings in the future, I’ll always remember the laugh of that kid, the smile of a grateful mother, and the joy me and my buddies felt that day. I’ll always be thankful for where I was born, the people that have been in my life, and the joy that can be found in a simple moment of living on this earth.