Photographer recalls being shot on patrol with Echo Company

RAMADI, Iraq—On April 10, four days after the firefight at the Ramadi market, the Marines of Echo Company were out again in predawn darkness, to cordon off an area of Ramadi and search every house in it.

I struggled to keep up with the Marines and take photographs at the same time. For a week and a half, I had been with Echo Company as an "embedded" journalist.

As illumination flares popped overhead, the two dozen Marines went house to house, interrogating and detaining men.

We heard a distant burst of gunfire and knelt against a wall surrounding a house. I raised my camera and photographed Echo Company's Iraqi translator, nicknamed "007," who was behind me.

There was another distant burst and something yanked at my right arm. I looked around to see why 007 had tugged at me, but he was too far away. I rolled up my sleeve and with my left hand felt a divot in the underside of my biceps, near my elbow, where blood was seeping out. I realized I'd been shot. Grazed, really.

Before I could say anything, rapid fire burst out, and everybody dived into a nearby drainage ditch, filled with black mud, cow dung and water.

We were caught in a crossfire, drawing fire from front and rear. I thought how mad my wife would be if I died on this trip. I thought of my daughter, Ingrid, who wouldn't have a father to dance with on her wedding day.

The Marine next to me yelped and grabbed his thigh, as a ricocheting bullet sprayed him with metal and stone. He spun around and climbed on my back, using my backpack as a rest for his M-16 while he fired over 007's head. He was heavy, but I was thankful for the protection.

I looked up to my left and saw where the shots were coming from: a field ablaze with hundreds of red tracer rounds stinging through the blue morning mist. I was scared to death.

"Aaaaaaah ... I'm hit in the head," screamed Capt. Kelly D. Royer, Echo's commanding officer. A medic, "Doc" Clayton, came running.

"Wait, there's no hole; I'm not bleeding," Royer said. "I'm OK." The bullet had hit his helmet, but hadn't penetrated.

We crawled on our elbows toward the relative safety of a house, then ran 50 yards to duck behind a truck. Then up to the roof of another house. Gunfire was coming from everywhere, and in the field, black and white cows were grazing.

In another house, Lance Cpl. John T. Sims, 21, of Alexander City, Ala., was shot in the torso. Marines carried him by stretcher to a nearby Bradley armored vehicle for evacuation, but he died en route.

At last, helicopter gunships arrived overhead, and in three passes, spewing machine-gun fire, they ended the fight.


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.