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In the theatre of war death is common. Soldiers, then, unfortunately experience more than their fair share of bereavement. But what if they never knew the one they have lost? Or, at least, never knew them in life… The following account was submitted by a United States Navy soldier, and recounts an inexplicable experience that happened in Iraq to his friend and fellow soldier.
Editor’s note: The following account has been edited for grammatical mistakes and increased clarity of information.
“I wondered if what I had experienced was real.”
My name is Tommy, USN, Active Duty. This is a recounting of my buddy’s experience during his USMC 2013 operations in Iraq. I remember the look on his and his corporal’s faces when they made it back to base. After a few hours and a few rounds down range, he told me what had happened. His corporal ended up verifying his story with his own experiences, back in the chow hall. These are his words.
Somehow we got turned around in the Iraqi desert. Our patrol took us a few too many klicks south from base camp than I was comfortable with. Before we knew it, the six of us were wandering in a desert with no name and no point of reference. Thanks to cloud cover, even the stars didn’t shine that night.
Our lead was Cpl. Matts and the five of us were all giving him Hell for getting us lost, and he was starting to get angry. He wasn’t snapping back or nothing, but that’s how he always was when his temper was bubbling. It was kinda scary at times. After about an hour of walking and talking, we caught a lucky break: the clouds were breaking up and the distant scenery came into view. Desert. Nothing but desert sand and a pathetic looking hut about fifty yards east from our position. LCpls Domonic and Hernandez scouted ahead to secure the structure, while Cpl. Matts and Pvt. Marcus, Brown and I covered them from the closest dune. A few minutes after entering, we got the all clear.
Coming into the building, we could see there wasn’t much left of it. There was one solid wall facing southeast, the rest of them were only half of a wall each and a single corner of the northern-most wall. The remaining walls were pock-marked and there were dark brown stains on the rubble and walls. The roof was mostly intact, except for the six-foot-wide hole. Matts and Marcus were looking them over while Domonic was scoping out the distance, making sure we weren’t in someone’s backyard or something like that.
“It’s blood. Old, but it’s blood,” Matts said as he clicked off his light and he wiped his hands on his sleeve. Marcus was poking his fingers into the holes in the walls. “Shrapnel”, he announced. “Probably mortar fire.”
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We didn’t know how whoever had been there before got killed. Hunkering down was not an appealing prospect, but Matts made the call. We were to take turns standing fire watch. Matts first, then Hernandez, Dent, Marcus, Dom, then Brown. Once it was bright enough to see, we would head out.
Once the law was passed, we started settling down. It felt like only a few minutes before I woke up to a bright light in my face and Hernandez nudging my shoulder. In a few minutes, I was leaning against a wall, staring out an empty desert.
The night air was so dark, I could just barely make out the difference between sand and sky. The clouds reformed, blocking any moonlight from passing through. I would’ve been creeped out back home, but this was common here. The only sounds to be heard were from the rest of us asleep a few feet away, huddled together to keep warm. Thinking back on it now, all those sounds were kinda dull, too. Like the sound didn’t have any echo – no meat – behind it.
It was about an hour into my watch when I almost jumped out of my skin. The sound of footsteps. They were coming from around the southern corner, but still far enough off to not be an immediate threat. Readying my rifle, I took cover behind the corner and peeked over. Nothing. Maybe it was just wind and sand? Maybe I was too tired? Just as I was starting to calm down, there was a pat on my left shoulder. I would’ve shouted but once I saw him, I was more relieved than anything else. It was another Marine. Just one, in battle rattle. His face about a foot from mine as he put his finger to his lips and shushed me.
“Stay quiet, boot,” he said. “Get everyone up and get your stuff. We have rescue on the way.”
Rescue? For a moment I forgot we were lost while on patrol. The Marine got up and walked around the southeastern wall, seemingly to make a call on his radio. I started waking everyone up, telling them all what just happened. Matts walked completely around the southeastern wall and back again. He looked annoyed.
There was no one there, he said in so many words. Matts got close to me. Really close.
I told him to calm down. “He just walked behind that wall,” I said, pointing to the southeastern wall. Matts glanced back and forth between me and that hole-riddled southeastern wall. He changed from annoyed to confused, his tone changed and he directed Brown with his finger to follow him. Everyone got their rifles and kneeled in a circle as Matts and Brown flanked the wall. They walked around it and found nothing but each other and their footprints. They came back, swearing under their breaths at me.
Marcus nudged my shoulder once we all stood down. “You sure you saw that?” Marcus eyed me up, I guess checking my face for fatigue. He must’ve thought I looked tired.
“Yeah, man. As sure as you see me.”
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After that it was determined that my watch was done. I was too tired. I nodded and agreed as Marcus took over.
As I settled down for the night, I wondered if what I had experienced was real. The others moaned as we all huddled up. I was out in seconds, comfortable with Marcus watching over us. Soon enough, I was woken up by everyone scrambling to their feet and grabbing their gear. Marcus shuffled up to me as I sat up.
“Dent, that Marine you saw, what did he look like? Was he in a vest? Did you get his name? See his face?” Marcus machine-gunned questions at me. He was shaken up.
“Y-Yeah. He had a five o’clock shadow. White guy, older looking, like mid-thirties.”
“Name? Did you get his name?”
“No,” I answered, as I stuffed my sleeper into my ruck.
Marcus told me that he had seen him, too. His head was swivelling around, nervous. I was freaked out now. Matts was doing a headcount when Domonic said loud enough for all of us to hear, “Let’s go! Let’s go! We’re moving out.”
As we started walking, I saw Domonic reach down and pick up something in the sand, near the southeastern wall. I knew that clink. He shone his light on his find. Dog tags. I could tell that from the glint, too.
We double-timed to the dunes and tried to see where we needed to go. The sky was a little brighter now with pending daybreak. Matts managed to get a radio signal and called in our statuses. About a half hour later we saw our first helo overhead, then an hour after that, the Humvees reached us.
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Once back at base, we were debriefed and had to make reports on how we got lost and anything we may have experienced. Mine must’ve been a couple pages, front and back, but I doubt it all made it up the Combat Operations Center.
Marcus and Domonic came up to me in a smoke pit later that day. What they shared with me made the hair on my arms and neck stand on end. Marcus told me about the sound of footsteps, the pat on his shoulder, then the Marine so close he could smell the day-old-stink on his breath. He told me he was told the same exact thing I was told and saw the exact thing I saw, down to the southeastern wall.
If that wasn’t crazy enough, there was more. Domonic nudged Marcus’s side, lightly urging him to share the rest. Marcus swallowed hard before he spoke again.
“I asked around,” he told me. ”There was a four-man patrol, about three weeks ago, that was recovered in that very house.” He said it so quietly, I had to repeat one word.
“Recovered? As in?”
“As in their remains.” Domonic answered with his hands in his pockets, a Marine Corps no-no.
I cracked a smirk. They were messing with me, right? I had to ask, but they didn’t budge. I could almost hear the deafening boom sound that comes right after Earth-shaking revelations, in movies and tv shows. They both shook their heads. After almost a minute of awkward silence, Marcus pulled a piece of paper out of his left leg pouch. It was folded in four but still fresh. He handed it to me and asked if this was the Marine I saw. It was.
I asked Marcus if he had seen him, too. I immediately realised that asking him was pointless because I already knew the answer. He answered with a single nod. Domonic then pulled his right hand out of his pocket and turned his palm up, showing the dog tags he had found.
“His name was Jeremy P. Roberts. Sergeant.”
He and his men had been taken out in that house, blown apart by mortar fire.
“The enemy was never neutralized, so they could still be out there.”
Marcus and Domonic were done. I was sick to my stomach. The guys walked away, again after an awkward silence. I had chills in 110-degree heat.
The next day, we got word that hours after we all bugged out of there, the house was hit with mortars again. This time it was leveled. When I heard that news, I got weak.
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