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The Anvil of God

Aired August 31, 2007 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: "We trust in God. We have two choices, victory or martyrdom." Those are the words of an insurgent fighter in Iraq, as reported by "The New York Times" only days before the Battle of Fallujah.
And these are the words of an American commander, said at virtually the same time: "The enemy has got a face. He is called Satan. He lives in Fallujah, and we're going to destroy him."

These are all words worth considering, as our nation faces what seems to be a critical crossroads in this war, because, if Iraq is a battle of wills, as some have suggested, then there has been no greater test than the Battle of Fallujah.

Tonight, in a special one-hour report, we examine that battle and the lessons it taught through the eyes of one very dedicated group of Marines, whose dedication, sacrifice and sheer will to produce positive results are a measure of the extraordinary effort young Americans are making every single day in that war, efforts that deserve honor and respect and consideration, as we ponder our future course in Iraq.

Here's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Some insurgents say the great Battle of Fallujah began at the end of a long, hot summer in which they held the city like none other in Iraq. Some Iraqis say it began at the end of a cold, gray November Monday, with the sky spitting rain.

But, for members of the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Bravo Company, it started when Sergeant Lonny Wells tried to run across a street and was taken down in a torrent of gunfire. That was the beginning of the longest and most sustained combat U.S. troops have seen in decades.

For the fabled 1/8 Marines, five weeks on the anvil of God.

The fuse that ignited Fallujah was lit in the spring of 2004. Four American contractors were murdered, their bodies hanged from a bridge. Coalition troops attacked the insurgents behind the killings, but, when false rumors spread that civilians were being slaughtered, Iraqi politicians demanded the Americans withdraw. They did.

The insurgents celebrated. And, soon, every American officer knew Fallujah would have to be taken again.

LIEUTENANT CHRISTOPHER WILKENS, BRAVO COMPANY: That was the enemy's headquarters. That's what was going on there.

FOREMAN: Lieutenant Chris Wilkens knew it.

WILKENS: Car bomb factories all over the city. The insurgents ran vehicle checkpoints, no coalition presence in the city whatsoever, radio stations broadcasting insurgent propaganda, you know, the people just in a state of fear.

FOREMAN: Dexter Filkins, a reporter with "The New York Times," knew it, too.

DEXTER FILKINS, CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Literally, there was a group called the Mujahideen Council, Mujahideen Shura, that ran the city. They had free rein. They could do whatever they wanted. And they were 35 miles from Baghdad.

FOREMAN (on camera): So, Fallujah really was living up to its reputation as the capital of the insurgency?

FILKINS: Definitely. Definitely. It clearly was.

FOREMAN (voice-over): And Corporal Jake Jarvis knew all about Fallujah.

CORPORAL JAKE JARVIS, BRAVO COMPANY: That's all they could talk about, was Fallujah, Fallujah, Fallujah. And we're just like, I'm tired of hearing about Fallujah.

FOREMAN: He and Lance Corporal Sam Crist, in truth, knew more than they cared to know, stuck many miles away in a desolate outpost called ASP Wolf.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a destination, and it wasn't much of one at that. It was just out in the middle of nowhere. You would hear about the war is going on, but we didn't -- we didn't even see civilians. We didn't see other people in the Marine Corps. There was nothing.

JARVIS: We were in the desert. No one came out to visit us. We were in our own little world.

FOREMAN: Wolf was not many what these young men expected. The 8th Marines are the fabled survivors of the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing. Two hundred and twenty Marines died that day, but thousands more have served in the 1/8 since, in the worst circumstances, with the highest honor.

And, yet, here they sit in the desert, waiting for something to do.

Sergeant Michael Ramirez:

SERGEANT MICHAEL RAMIREZ, BRAVO COMPANY: We kept hearing the whole time we were up there. It was like, Fallujah is -- we're going to make an assault on Fallujah. And then they would say, well, it got canceled.

FOREMAN: So, they run missions of little note. They build mock towns to practice urban warfare day after day. They build a mock tank just for fun.

Then, as summer fades, Fallujah comes up once again. Only this time, the invasion appears as if it might really happen.

JARVIS: The training, the mood, everything started changing. Now it's, we're going to do something, and people aren't going to come back. You're going into a place where people want to kill you.

FOREMAN: The attack plan is classic. The Army will encircle the city. Some Marines will come from the west. But the bulk will sweep in from the north.

FILKINS: The whole Fallujah operation was essentially a hammer and an anvil. And the Marines were the hammer going in, and the Army was the -- was the anvil. I mean, the Army was the block along the southern part of the city. So, it was like, bam.

FOREMAN (on camera): Drive everybody down that way.

FILKINS: Drive everybody...


FOREMAN: Surround them and capture them or kill them.

FILKINS: Capture or kill.

FOREMAN (voice-over): "New York Times" photographer Ashley Gilbertson records the preparations, including the drills for handling casualties.

ASHLEY GILBERTSON, PHOTOGRAPHER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": There was a lot of bravado there with the Marines, and laughing and volunteering for this -- you know, to be the wounded or dead guy. But I think, afterwards, there was -- you know, people realized that, you know, there were going to be people killed and wounded during the -- this offensive.

FOREMAN: In October, the Marines leave Wolf and move to a camp outside of Fallujah, some still doubting the attack will come, doubting the insurgents will stand and fight, even as they wait, poised outside the city, playing baseball in the evening to pass the time.

SERGEANT AUBREY MCDADE, BRAVO COMPANY: Even when we got to the actual launch point, to where we're getting ready to go inside a city, I'm still rebellious. I'm like, we're not going to do nothing.

FOREMAN: But, for weeks, tens of thousands of civilians have been pouring out of the city, heeding warnings of a strike. And now planes are pounding the insurgents left behind with bombs. Officers are reviewing equipment, transportation, plans, communication.

WILKENS: And, like, hair stand up on the back of your neck, like, wow, that's the place we have been hearing about. And that's how it was.

FOREMAN: Blake Benson is a lance corporal. But he knows as well as any general what lies ahead now.

LANCE CORPORAL BLAKE BENSON, BRAVO COMPANY: We knew this was going to be a Fight. We knew we were going in to retake that city, and we weren't going to get pulled out this time. The Marines weren't going to get called back. This was, we're going in to finish the job.

FOREMAN: The problem is, the insurgents know all that, too. All through the summer of 2004, they have been building up defenses, recruiting fighters, and stockpiling weapons. Fallujah is now as hard as an anvil, on which both sides within hours will begin to pound.




FOREMAN (voice-over): The city of Fallujah was largely planned by Saddam Hussein. Its northern edge is a straight line against the desert. And, just after dark, one evening in November 2004, more than 10,000 U.S. soldiers, Marines, and new Iraqi troops slammed into it.

WILKENS: It's insanely loud. I have never -- it's -- I had never dreamed it that loud in my life.

BENSON: All I see is tracer rounds just coming downrange.

GILBERTSON: It seemed like Fallujah was vomiting up all the arms and RPGs. Everything that they could throw at these Marines coming in were coming at us.

WILKENS: Missiles are going off. Rockets are going off, heavy machine gun. And they're all over the place.

FILKINS: And, behind us, the Americans had set up these enormous speakers that you would use like at a rock concert. And they were playing AC/DC. And I remember they were playing "Back in Black."


GILBERTSON: I remember thinking, like, this is really, really bad.

FOREMAN: Estimates of insurgent strength vary widely, but military intelligence suggests there may be 3,000 or more. And Bravo Company is cutting right through the middle of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anything we could see that was shooting at us, we tried taking out. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch out (INAUDIBLE) if you see anyone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Certain areas, they had set up for us to fall into their kill zones.

FOREMAN (on camera): So, the first night, you're just pushing all night?

BENSON: Yes, nonstop pushing towards the cultural center area.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pull back security.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Pull back.

FOREMAN: The cultural center, a half-mile in, is a stronghold to be taken and used as an anchor for Bravo's charge. As they approach at sunrise, Sergeant Lonny Wells is near the front. He's in his late 20s, always calm. The younger Marines naturally follow him.

WILKENS: He's been around a while. He's older. He knows what he's doing.

FOREMAN: The wide road in front of the cultural center is comparatively quiet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Running this way!

FOREMAN: Sergeant Wells starts running across, and the dawn explodes.



GILBERTSON: There were bullets coming in from every side of us, from in front of us, from the east and west, and then behind us. It looked, sounded, and felt like a nightmare.

FOREMAN: The heaviest interlocking fire is coming from a nearby mosque and a building down the street. Shots, however, are all around, so Bravo cannot sit. The center must be taken. But, in the middle of the street, Lonny Wells is down.

SERGEANT JOEL CHAVERRI, MARINE COMBAT PHOTOGRAPHER: The first sign of combat is extremely confusing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back up! Back up!

FOREMAN: Joel Chaverri, whose job is to record the battle for the military, sees Wells fall. And, as he lifts his camera, he sees a gunnery sergeant run to Wells' rescue, a medical corpsman not far behind. The gunny is shot and thrown several feet. The corpsman is hit, too.

CHAVERRI: It was like a movie. It was extremely surreal. I didn't think. You don't think. You don't have time to think. You just react.

FOREMAN: Even with men down, the mad charge across the street continues.




GILBERTSON: I could see tracer bullets kicking up under the feet of the guy in front of me. I look down under my feet, it's exactly the same thing, like, why are these things not hitting me?

JARVIS: And I'm not exaggerating. It's literally like they're going through your feet.

FOREMAN: Sam Crist sprints into the open, sees a blur of blood beneath his feet.

LANCE CORPORAL SAMUEL CRIST, BRAVO COMPANY: I didn't know who it was. I just remember thinking, you know, oh, man, you know, I'm glad that's not me. And, as soon as that thought went through my head, that's whenever the first round got me in the leg.

FOREMAN: Lance Corporal Michael Godoy:

LANCE CORPORAL MICHAEL GODOY, BRAVO COMPANY: All of the sudden, when he drops, you just see the puddle of blood spreading. I'm like, wow, he's hit, he's hit. And we started opening up even more with the weapons.

FOREMAN: Another bullet tears through Crist's arm.

CRIST: I just started crawling and screaming as fast as I could. I'm trying to, like, look up to yell, so they will hear me, because the fire was really loud.

FOREMAN: Crist and all the others are finally dragged to safety. An armored medical vehicle arrives. They're piled inside, amid the relentless gunfire.

CRIST: I just kept telling them over and over, hey, man, don't let them cut off my arm.

FILKINS: And, you know, there ensued the longest, loudest, most sustained gun battle I have, you know, ever witnessed, thousands and thousands and thousands of rounds.

FOREMAN: When the insurgents are finally driven back, Bravo holds the cultural center, the mosque, and the street. But the cost is high. Four men have been taken out of the battle. Lonny Wells is dead.

GODOY: That is the moment the battle started for us, definitely, because they were the first casualties for us, at -- at least -- we just -- it wasn't real until then. It wasn't real until you saw somebody go down.

BENSON: When people start going down, that's when you start questioning, and when you start seriously thinking about, this could be my life. This could be my buddy's life. This could be all of us. I mean, who's next? Who's going to go down next?

GILBERTSON: Some of the men cried. Some of the men didn't say anything. Now, I don't have a picture of that, because I realized that I was doing exactly the same thing. I couldn't even begin to digest what had happened crossing that street.

FOREMAN: Thousands of miles from the madness of Fallujah, Sergeant Wells' family is told that he has died. His 8-year-old son writes a school assignment, and he calls it, simply, "My Hero."

JARVIS: You just don't know. I mean, bullets have no names. They don't care about color. They don't care about race. They don't care about rank, what rank you have. It's, they're -- they want to kill you. It's, you're an enemy, and they're going to kill you.

FOREMAN: For Bravo, there is no time to mourn. Insurgents are swirling before them. The hammer must keep driving them south, but with a difference: The Marines now truly know what they are up against.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch out. Watch out. Let me get a shot. Where they at? Where they at?






UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's wounded, in between these two houses.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you see him?

FOREMAN (voice-over): Above the chaos in the streets as the insurgents are driven south...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, he's in that garage! UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This one right here?



FOREMAN: ... an extraordinary battle rages on the rooftops...



FOREMAN: ... between the most highly trained fighters on each side, the sniper war.

CHAVERRI: The snipers are an interesting group. They're a little bit of loners. You know, they have to be. They live in a world of solitude because of what they have to do.

FOREMAN: Carefully selected, highly disciplined, the Marine snipers spend endless hours seeking the enemy through their scopes, keeping stealthy attackers in the tight alleys from getting too close.

BENSON: They were a godsend. They helped us out a lot. They were guardian angels in a lot of times. When we were going somewhere, they had that overwatch on us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fifteen to 20 are moving behind the barriers.

FOREMAN: For Bravo, two snipers stand out. Corporal Nick Ziolkowski, or Ski, is a tall, handsome surfer from near Baltimore.

FOREMAN (on camera): What was Ski like?

GILBERTSON: Cool. He was really cool, a really nice guy.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Everyone seems to know and admire him, his calm professionalism and easy manner an oasis in the turmoil.

Corporal Kirk Bosselmann is another sniper from Maryland, also known for his confidence, absolute reliability, and rock-solid shooting.

WILKENS: One shot means one kill for them. And, when they fired, you knew they meant it.

FOREMAN: They have to be good. As officers plot their moves, military intelligence believes the insurgents have imported dozens of trained foreign shooters to pick off the American snipers.

GILBERTSON: Ski said that he had been looking for a particular sniper, one that he had been -- one that had been firing at him, and he had been looking for, for the whole battle.

FOREMAN (on camera): How could he identify this...


GILBERTSON: I have no idea.

MCDADE: He knew the sniper was trained. He didn't know if he was Chechnyan or Serbian or whatever, but he knew that...

FOREMAN: But he had a real sense that there was a guy out there that was trying to get him?

MCDADE: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger. How is everybody?

FOREMAN (voice-over): Bravo is losing more men.


FOREMAN: Corporal R.J. Jimenez of West Virginia is shot and killed while engaging the enemy. The Marines, as they always have, leave no one behind.

And they do the same when Corporal Nathan Anderson is deceived and then gunned down by insurgents dressed as Iraqi soldiers. The Marine snipers are constantly trying to lure their elusive enemies into the open.

CHAVERRI: Well, they definitely were creative. And, at some times, they did have to put a hole in the wall and maybe get someone to, you know, put a little decoy of a helmet up there. Sometimes, it didn't work.

FOREMAN: There is some comfort. Moving with the Marines as they push south is Lieutenant Commander and Navy doctor Richard Jadick. He has put his forward aid station in the middle of the battle, hoping that immediate care might save more lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) stretchers out there.

FOREMAN: It is working, but the river of wounded Marines is astonishing.

LIEUTENANT COMMANDER RICHARD JADICK, BATTALION SURGEON: They would come in eights and 12s and, you know, 15s. And they would be lying out in the street. And, the next thing you know, we would barely get that done, and the next round would come in.

FOREMAN: Jadick studies military statistics to gauge how many more he might see.

JADICK: And I was coming up with 40 to 60 percent casualty rates. That's what I was expecting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh. Is that them on the roof?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey. Is that friendlies on the roof? FOREMAN: What no one is expecting is what comes six days in. The men had been led to believe the entire battle would be done by now. Bravo has pushed nearly to the southern edge of town. They are exhausted, edgy, in need of any kind of relief.

So, as they hunker down for another sleepless night, it helps that Ski sits easily among them, talking about home, college plans, surfing. When morning comes, Ski, the sniper, climbs back to the roof with his rifle to scan the horizon.

WILKENS: And, all of a sudden, we hear one shot ring out.

BENSON: I remember sitting there, and I hear, you know, one crisp shot.

WILKENS: And then they carried him out on the stretcher right in front of everybody.

BENSON: That totally destroyed me there. That was very hard to see.

FOREMAN: Ski is rushed to the aid station, so badly injured, only when Dr. Jadick sees the name on his uniform does he realize who this is. He quietly asks his staff to leave.

JADICK: He had some significant, massive trauma to his head, and he wasn't going to make it. And I didn't want the memories to -- to hurt the corpsmen.

FOREMAN (on camera): Who all knew him well?

JADICK: Who knew him.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Every death reverberates throughout Bravo, and this one, so close to what they think is the end, is especially hard.

WILKENS: It was like, I didn't have that angel on my shoulder anymore, you know, because Ski wasn't there.

FOREMAN: But, all along the , as the Marines have pushed through the city, hundreds, maybe thousands of insurgents have slipped behind them. And, within hours, Bravo will find, their fight is far from over, and the worst is still ahead.



FOREMAN: Fallujah began as a trading center 4,000 years ago. A crossroads for many faiths, but now it is called the city of mosques.

But in this battle, the more than 200 mosques, with tall minarets and commanding views, are centers for insurgent attacks. It infuriates Lieutenant Denis Cox, the Navy chaplain with Bravo, to see places of worship treated this way. CHAPLAIN DENIS COX, BATTALION MINISTER: The insurgents were nothing more than thugs. They're not devout. There's nothing devout about them. They're thugs; they're criminals.

FOREMAN: This militarization of the mosques, however, is often disputed, especially by insurgent propaganda. So when Ashley Gilbertson hears of a dead insurgent in a minaret, he wants a photo.

ASHLEY GILBERTSON, PHOTOGRAPHER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": It proved a lot of what the Marines were saying, that they're not using the mosques as temples; they're actually staging grounds now.

FOREMAN: A small group escorts him back to the mosque, which they had cleared of insurgents earlier. Lance Corporal Billy Miller is up front. He's an eager Marine, admired because he takes the toughest jobs and always puts the safety of others above his own.

Miller leads the way up the twisting stairs of the minaret.

Sergeant James Mulak.

CPL. JAMES MULAK, BRAVO COMPANY: We were about maybe a full turn and a half. So I was probably -- it was in the lower one third. And it just happened.

GILBERTSON: Shots rang out. And I felt liquid pour all over me, and we sort of tumbled all over the stairs and I saw that I had blood all over me. And that Miller had been shot by an insurgent who had been waiting inside the minaret.

MULAK: We started calling Miller, and there was no response.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on. Against the wall!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every time they sent a guy up there, gunfire would come back down.

I remember thinking to myself, my God, the whole platoon is going to die trying to get him out of there.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was absolutely no way they would leave anybody behind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what we're going to do.

FOREMAN: Bravo finally reaches their man, and they hustle him out. A quick air strike destroys the minaret and kills the insurgent. But Billy Miller is dead.

GILBERTSON: I felt like I killed him. I know I didn't pull the trigger but I certainly felt responsible. So his death is certainly the death that has affected me most and the one that I continue to think about every single day. FOREMAN: That same day, Lance Corporal Bradley Parker from West Virginia dies in an explosion. Blake Benson is with him. There's nothing he can do.

LANCE CPL. BLAKE BENSON, BRAVO COMPANY: I know I had nothing to feel guilty about, but it made me feel really guilty about it. Because he was a great guy.

COX: A thousand may fall at your side -- ten thousand...

FOREMAN: Chaplain Cox leads prayers every day, for the dead and the living.

COX: I think one of the most often questions that they would ask me anyway was, "Chaplain, can God forgive me for killing someone?" And I'd tell them there's no need for forgiveness. If you don't kill that person, then you're endangering the lives of those around you.

FOREMAN: The danger is growing.

MULAK: You hear snaps all the time. I mean, there wasn't any time of the day you did not hear some sort of a round going off.

FOREMAN: After Bravo reaches the southern edge of town, the anvil on which they had hoped to smash the insurgents, so many remain hidden the Marines are told they must now turn around, go back, house to house, clearing them out.

LANCE CPL. MICHAEL GODOY, BRAVO COMPANY: We were, you know, we were very upset. We already lost how many guys?

FOREMAN: It is crushing news.

Lance Corporal Demarkus Brown has been counting the days until he leaves. He has previously written to his mother, "Last night had me scared I won't see my mom again. Continue to pray for my safety."

But he struggled to get into the Marines, and he will do his duty now, just like everyone else in Bravo. The next day he is alongside Lance Corporal Demetrius Gabriel (ph), a former stockbroker who joined the Marines after two friends died in the Twin Towers. They're among a group that enters what appears to be an empty house to search for weapons.

James Mulak goes into a room on the right.

MULAK: And as soon as I cleared it, I started hearing gunfire.

FOREMAN: Gabriel is killed instantly by an insurgent firing from a hidden corner.

GODOY: All of a sudden, you see Brown run out of the house and the courtyard, and he's just, like, patting his chest and he's, like, trying to rip his helmet off.

FOREMAN: A bullet has slipped through a gap in Brown's body armor. But as they rush him to an aid station, he is alert, talking.

GODOY: He gave us thumbs up, you know. He winked and said he was going to be good. And then...

FOREMAN: Doc Jadick thinks so, too. But through an hour of steady, hard work, Brown slowly slips away.

LT. CDR. RICHARD JADICK, BATTALION SURGEON: That was the worst one. It hurts you, because he was speaking. He was alive. Because that's my job because I knew him. The day before -- two days before we had seen him in the aid station. He had taken some shrapnel in the lip. And they said, "Can you go back out?" And he said sure.

But I couldn't save him. He died there.

FOREMAN: The insurgent who killed Brown and Gabriel is killed, too. And the Marines recognize him, from 15 minutes before the attack.

That's when they say he crossed the road waving a white flag, smiling. And Bravo waved back.


FOREMAN: Much has been written about the explosive first week in Fallujah.


FOREMAN: But the campaign to clear houses would prove much worse, much more deadly for Bravo. The terrifying door-to-door hunt for weapons, bombs and insurgents.

GODOY: They weren't soldiers or anything. They didn't want to fight us. They just wanted to kill us.

FOREMAN: The Marines are convinced many foreign fighters are here. When sniper Kirk Bosselmann killed an opposing sniper, the scope they retrieved is the type favored by Chechen separatists. The insurgents seemed united only by their hatred of Americans and their twisted version of Islam.

GODOY: We would hear them praying as they were shooting. We would hear them say their death prayer. It was very eerie.

FOREMAN: One of Bravo's most respected Marines was not born in the United States. Corporal Gentian Marku immigrated with his family from Albania to a house in Michigan and a home in the Marines.

BENSON: Great guy. He was funny. He was always trying to make people laugh.

LT. CHRISTOPHER WILKENS, BRAVO COMPANY: Of course, you always hear stories like he's a great guy, everybody loved him. Literally everyone loved Marku. FOREMAN: Before Fallujah, he serves as interpreter during a company deployment to his native Albania. He sends his mother a picture from the family cemetery. She calls it bad luck, and that's something the Marines do not need.

WILKENS: Every door you go behind, you just are hoping there's no one behind it, and you know you got to go through it and you just -- you pray. That's really all you can do.

FOREMAN: In most houses they find no one.


FOREMAN: In about half, they find weapons, and in a few they find elaborately concealed tunnels.

SGT. AUBREY MCDADE, BRAVO COMPANY: They can, like, throw some grenades, take some potshots and just run under, like two or three blocks.

FOREMAN (on camera): You found that?

MCDADE: Yes, sir.

FOREMAN (voice-over): But in the worst cases, insurgents hide with machine guns, grenades and rockets, waiting until the place is full of Marines.

WILKENS: They knew how to spring an ambush. They weren't just random guys who saw an American they wanted to shoot. They waited until we got into position. They knew what they were doing.

FOREMAN: Thanksgiving, Marku, Lance Corporal Jeffrey Holmes from Vermont, Blake Benson and two other Marines are due to join everyone else a few blocks away for their first hot meal in weeks. They need to clear a last house. They step into the courtyard. Marku approaches.

BENSON: As soon as his boot touched that door, rounds from inside the house rained down on us. I was hit...

FOREMAN (on camera): Coming through the door.

BENSON: ... coming through the door, the windows, everything.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Perhaps a dozen insurgents have opened fire, driving the five Marines away from the narrow gate, the only exit. They were trapped.

BENSON: Rounds just keep coming in. I hear from inside the house, the insurgents screaming, "Allah akbar, Allah akbar", "God is great."

FOREMAN: Chris Wilkens and others race to the courtyard. Blistering gunfire meets them.

WILKENS: They're yelling to me, don't send anyone in there, don't send anyone in there. Everybody's gone, like everybody's down.

FOREMAN: Marines hammer the windows with shots to keep the insurgents back. Benson, his pants soaked red, grabs Marku, trying to drag him away from the heaviest shooting.

BENSON: They're like, you know, this the whole time. I got hit in the head. I got really dizzy. I lost my bearings. At this point in time, I'm thinking, "I'm gone. I'm dead. This is it. I'm done."

FOREMAN: Finally, a tank smashes the courtyard wall. Marines pour in to rescue their brothers.

(on camera) How many people came out of there alive and how many did not?

WILKENS: Out of the five, two of them were killed and the other three were all wounded pretty bad.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Jeffrey Holmes and Gentian Marku are dead.

An air strike obliterates the house and all the insurgents. It's no comfort. Benson has been shot in his leg, his foot, his head. He mourns for everyone else.

BENSON: I wish things would have been done differently. I guess -- I blame myself for a lot of it, unfortunately. I know you shouldn't, but I do.

FOREMAN (on camera): Why do you suppose that is? When you know better?

BENSON: Nobody deserves to die out there like that.

FOREMAN (voice-over): No one deserved to die like Lance Corporal David Hock (ph) from North Carolina. He helped pull Marku and the others from the courtyard but was shot himself the next day. He loved rock climbing, sent a pressed rose to his mother from the war.

No one deserved to die like Lance Corporal Joshua Lucero of Arizona, a hard-working teenager who became a harder working Marine. He was crushed on the first day when Lonny Wells died. Now others mourn for him.

And no one deserved to die like Kirk Bosselmann, the sniper who fought on after his friend, Ski, was killed. He had told his parents he did not expect to come home.

BEVERLY BOSSELMANN, MOTHER, CPL. KIRK BOSSELMANN: He physically told me where he wanted his ashes scattered and who he wanted his things to go to. You don't want to believe it. I still don't want to believe it. I still have days where I think Kirk's coming home. I just wish he would hurry up and get here.

FOREMAN: Bravo marks Thanksgiving weekend in solemn contemplation. David Hock (ph) had made a flag from a sandbag to record the names of the dead. His name, and the names of the others, are added to the growing list.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy Thanksgiving.


FOREMAN: Their commanders had told Bravo that the battle of Fallujah would take six days. It took five weeks. It remains the only time insurgents have tried to hold substantial territory in this war. They failed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think one of the things it was about was -- for the Americans was destroying what amounted to a safe haven for the several hundred or several thousand insurgents.

FOREMAN (on camera): And it was successful on that front?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was absolutely successful on that front.

FOREMAN (voice-over): American troops found abundant evidence of hidden prison cells for kidnap victims, torture chambers, car bomb factories.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It wasn't just rifles. You had rockets, grenades, suicide belts.

FOREMAN: They found signs of insurgents tracking and targeting Iraqis who opposed them and tools of remorseless deception.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Police uniforms, military uniforms, all different types, passports and photos. It was scary.

FOREMAN: Every coalition unit suffered losses and injuries, shutting down this capital of this insurgency. And the men of Bravo are the first to say all deserve equal respect.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We lost a lot of guys, out of 182 people, out of the whole 1/8, Bravo Company was hit the hardest. It just seemed to us that we were always up front. We were always the ones to follow.

FOREMAN: Thirteen dead. Dozens wounded. Countless acts of valor. Sergeant Aubrey McDade ran alone repeatedly through an intense firefight to carry wounded Marines to safety, earning one of the highest honors, the Navy Cross. It doesn't seem to matter much.

MCDADE: We lost 13 people. The whole Navy Cross thing, I would throw that back five years (ph), if I had lived to die as I had seen that day (ph).

FOREMAN: Thirteen men whose legacies live on. Fellow Marines continue to serve in their honor. Parents and children feel their sacrifice every day.

Nick Ziolkowski and Kirk Bosselmann, the snipers, wanted to be college roommates. Instead, a scholarship has been established in Nick's name. His mother has seen others follow his path. TRACY MILLER, MOTHER, CPL. NICK ZIOLKOWSKI: He didn't waver in his purpose. As one of his high school teachers said, it wasn't that the other kids wanted to be Marines. It was that they wanted to be Nick.

FOREMAN: Kirk's parents try not to harbor hard feelings, even for the man who took their boy's life.

B. BOSSELMANN: If you can find the grace in yourself, then maybe one day we can stop it, the need for war. But if you can't find it in yourself, then how are you going to find it in others?

FOREMAN: They have the greatest respect for their son's fellow Marines. The simplest request of fellow Americans.

RAINER BOSSELMANN, FATHER, CPL. KIRK BOSSELMANN: When these people come home, they need jobs. Give them all the breaks in the world that you can. Because they need the breaks, and they're entitled to it.

FOREMAN: Gentian Marku was buried in his native Albania at the gravesite he once visited. Everyone in town turned out to honor their American son. His little sister.

JOANA MARKU, SISTER, CPL. GENTIAN MARKU: It was far more personal for him, in a way, because he knew what it was like to live in a country where there's not much opportunity. And for him to be able to give back a bit of hope to the Iraqi civilians, it meant a lot to him.

FOREMAN: Billy Miller's family found out that he was apparently the first person ever from Pearland, Texas, to die in combat. Trees planted in his honor and monuments secure Billy's memory. Complete strangers came to church to pay respects and to celebrate his life. It would have been his 23rd birthday.

SUSIE MILLER, MOTHER, LANCE CPL. BILLY MILLER: I can't tell you how warm it made me feel to know that so many people cared so much about our son. It was wonderful.

FOREMAN: Just after losing Demarkus Brown, Doc Jadick found a prayer card that he thought belonged to the young Marine. Jadick carried it every day, his only memento of the war.

JADICK: It was at a time when I was at my lowest point, and it was helpful.

FOREMAN: When he read a magazine article about Brown's mother, he sent the card her way.

CHYNITA BELCHER, MOTHER, LANCE CPL. DEMARKUS BROWN: And I think with all my heart that my son left it for him to give it to me somewhere down the line just a reminder, you know, that God will answer prayers. That, you know -- that he's all right and in a better place. FOREMAN: Some critics of the war have said astounding numbers of civilians were killed in the battle. Every person we spoke to who was there, including the journalists, says there is no evidence to support those claims.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, we encountered a city that was, for the most part, empty of civilians.

FOREMAN: Many of Bravo's Marines are civilians now. Injuries forced some out. The trauma of battle simply never left others. It hasn't left Ashley Gilbertson. It is with him every day. His photos now in a book, a tribute to the men of Bravo. And he's seen much more combat than many of these young Marines.

GILBERTSON: It was so violent and it was so intense.

FOREMAN (on camera): Have you ever before or since seen anything on par with Fallujah?

GILBERTSON: Absolutely not. No way. And I really hope I never do.

FOREMAN (voice-over): The insurgents have never reclaimed their capital. And they certainly suffered many more casualties than the coalition.

Through the heat, the fear, the fire and fatigue, the Marines were simply better fighters, because they fought for each other.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Marines that you went there with, not for anything else, not for Fallujah, not for the insurgency, not for -- not for the country of Iraq, not for the United States. When it comes down to bullets flying, you do what you do because of the guy on the right and the guy on the left.

MULAK: We were a huge family. Bravo Company was a huge family.

BENSON: I miss everything I was doing, with being in the military. I miss the brothers, I miss my friends and everything else there.

FOREMAN: In this biblical land, they stood side by side, fought for each other and emerged unbowed on the "Anvil of God".

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They made history. I mean, that's what everybody should remember is that 1st Battalion, 8th Marines was a bunch of good young men who did what they were asked to do.