Donald McGlothlin and Myself. Don's holding Ryan's notebook of inspirational poems and sayings.
November 16, 2005 is seared into my memory. It was a day of pitched battle, heroism and violent death.
We rose early that day and ate hurried meals of crackers and cheese, or PowerBars quickly washed down with weak lukewarm Gatorade. The night before word was passed that solid intelligence indicated a significant number of insurgents were cornered with their backs against the Euphrates River, and nowhere else to go. The blocking force, an Army National Guard Stryker unit, on the north side of river had seen to that. The Marines of 2nd Battalion 1st Marine Regiment had relentlessly pushed them for two weeks east along this ancient river valley; all the way from Husayba on the Syrian border to this final fist of land called Old Ubaydi.
In the early dawn hours Marines were pulling on battle gear, checking weapons, and drawing fresh ammunition. Warming themselves and shaking off the last dull vestiges of sleep they idled in groups of three or four. Tangerine faces glowed in the firelight of burn piles. Hoarse voices joked with nervous familiarity. The shouts of squad leaders and the platoon sergeant rose occasionally-chastising a slow riser here, bestowing cheery words of encouragement there. Tin-can radio chatter underscored the hum of hushed voices. Everyone knew, even after nearly two weeks of continuous combat in Operation Steel Curtain, that today was going to be a slugfest of the highest order.
Warming themselves around the burn barrel: from Left to Right-Corporal Rogers, LCpl Guzman and SSgt Homer. Corporal Jeffrey A Rogers was killed in action during the November 16th firefight.
At 0640 the order to move out rippled over the squads like a ribbon of May wind across a field of winter wheat. With the small crisp twisting and clinking sounds of gear and the crush of dry leaves beneath combat boots, the lines formed and moved out through pomegranate orchards and down irrigation ditches towards the several hundred acres of mud-daubed huts, walled compounds and palm groves where the battle royale would shortly take place.
Iraqi families (many waiting way too long to leave) holding sleepy children and limp improvised white flags, poured from their homes and were pointed in the direction of friendly lines. Old women wept while youngsters waved. Dogs darted about, roosters crowed and teams of M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks, with engines spewing exhaust and treads squeaking, unceremoniously crisscrossed freshly tilled fields. By 0805 the platoons of Fox Company 2nd Battalion 1st Marine Regiment were on line facing across several hundred yards of open ground- the otherside of which was eirely silent and, except for wandering livestock, devoid of people.
I was with 3rd Platoon as it took position in a farmhouse along the dirt road that bordered the battlefield and faced the open ground. 2nd Platoon was a hundred yards off to our left, closer to the river. Their three squads had each taken the meandering irrigation ditches up to their jump-off points, which were the first set of structures. Not knowing whether all the locals had evacuated, Fox Company was going to clear each house room by room, rather than by just "dropping" them with a missile from a Cobra gunship or a round fired pointblank from the the main gun of an Abrams.
At 0815 it hit the fan. 3rd Squad of 2nd Platoon had stepped into a virtual hornet's nest of mujh. By 0820 the radios were alive with frantic calls for help. Marines were down.
Staff Sergeant Michael Ventrone, 3rd Platoon's platoon sergeant, raced his Marines under fire across a hundred yards of open field to the aid of the stricken squad. We came upon a scene from Dante's Inferno. SSgt "V"'s men fanned out quickly engaging the enemy, securing our position, and rendering care to the many wounded. All of 2nd Platoon's corpsmen (medics) were down and 16 Marines and sailors were hurt bad.
I found myself with a group trying to help 2nd Platoon's gravely wounded lieutenant, Ryan McGlothlin. Up to mid-afternoon of the day prior I had been with Lt. McGlothlin and his men. All around me there were Marines I knew wounded and dying. Unfortunately Lt. McGlothlin didn't make it. Someone brought a blue sheet out from the home in who's courtyard the triage had been set up and handed it to me. I went over, laid a hand on Ryan, said a prayer, closed his eyes and covered him up. He was still warm. I will never forget this. This memory will revisit me daily for the remainder of my life. 5 Marines died that day and 11 were wounded.
Through all of the chaos, just like any other Marine that morning, I continued to do my job. Yes, I fired my rifle, but I also continued to take photographs and record the events with a small digital audio recorder. In addition to my primary mission as a combat artist, I also function as a field historian. While with Lt. McGlothlin's platoon I had taken several photos of him and did an oral history interview just days prior to his death. When I retrograded back to Camp Fallujah I reviewed my pictures and realized I also had several of two of the other KIAs from 2nd Platoon. Through something called Legacy.Com we were able to get word to the families that there were pictures of their sons taken days before they died in action. All the families concerned responded and have recieved the images.
This past Saturday the father of Lt. McGlothlin paid me a visit at my home in Fredericksburg. He has an aunt who lives here. Ryan's dad, Donald McGlothlin, is a former circuit court judge and practicing attorney. He is also a gentleman of the old school. Don, as he asks to be called, was enroute to a special memorial event held this past Sunday in Washington, DC called "A Time of Rememberance". Don is a fearless warrior when it comes to facing the still painful and raw emotions flowing from the loss of his beloved youngest son.
During a phone conversation arranging our get-together, Don said to me, "You have other photographs of Ryan don't you". I knew what he was asking. We had already supplied him with a CD containing pictures and the oral history interview of his son done days before he died. In no uncertain terms he wanted to see everything I had. Everything. I had sound recordings of the battle, the casualty evacuation, and photos of his son as the corpsmen worked on him and moments after he died. Don needed to see and hear it all. He had gone on-line and gotten a fuzzy satelite image of Old Ubaydi. I had a complete stitched together panoramic view of the battlefield, to include the house where his son was fatally wounded. This is a spiritually brave man.
Old Ubaydi Battlefield. November 16, 2005 Scene of firefight of Fox Company 2/1
Don also wanted the local paper to cover our meeting. His willingness to not only share the full story of his remarkable son's life and death, but also his own grief and struggle to heal is a gift to us all. You can read about it by going to this link:http://www.fredericksburg.com/News/FLS/2006/052006/05222006/192992
Don likes to share a telling quote from his son. Ryan, like his father, was a staunch Democrat. Ryan's politics and character are summed up simply in this oft spoken sentiment, "I would never vote for Mr. Bush, but I'd take a bullet for him." Words like these need no editorializing.
I learned another surprising fact about Lt. McGlothlin. Ryan's great grandfather's name was Sa'id Mafouth Rasbey. Sa'id was a Druze from Moukhtara, Lebanon who immigrated successfully to our shores alone at the age of 12, and this was his second attempt! The first time he stepped on Ellis Island they sent him back to Lebanon because he lacked a sponsor here. He turned around and came back a year later. An immigration official, remembering him from his previous try, went out of his way to find him a family willing to take him. Sa'id changed his last name to honor the man who took him in, Williams. Ryan's greatgrandfather eventually married and settled in Bristol, Virginia. Ryan was raised in Lebanon, Virginia.
With this posting I include pages Don was gracious enough to have copied for me from a journal Ryan started at the age 14. Of the hundreds of inspirational quotes and poems, from Yoda to Mae West, Don't Quit is the very first one written in this notebook. His careful deliberate handwriting tells me they were meant to be read and understood not just by his own eye, but by others as well. Lt. Ryan McGlothlin has been submitted for the Silver Star for his actions that day, actions that protected the lives of his Marines and which have left a legacy of personal courage, integrity and inspiration for us all. Two Marines under his command, Corporal Alvarez and Lance Corporal Mooi, have been nominated for Navy Crosses for their heroism on that fateful November morning.
*Click on images to enlarge
I'll end with two interesting(at least to me)coincidences. A couple days ago I posted an op-ed I penned for the local paper commenting on two other pieces printed in the same publication. One of the referenced writers was Wade Zirkle, a former Marine. It turns out that Zirkle was the platoon commander of 2nd Platoon F/2/1 immediately prior to Lt. McGlothlin taking command. In that same op-ed I said No Child Left Behind should really be called No Parents Present. Today's Free-Lance Star, in addition to the story about Don McGlothlin and myself, has a wonderful Associated Press piece about a former emotionally disturbed special education student,Ernest Lewis, who's graduating second in his Richmond, Virginia high school class with a 4.4 GPA. How did this miraculous reality come about? Simple...he was taken in by an aunt and uncle who took him out of special education and provided him with PARENTING. Cost to the taxpayer....$0.