March 23
2003



March 23

Iraqi forces killed and wounded several U.S. Marines on Sunday, March 23, around the southern city of An Nasiriya in what a senior U.S. officer called "the sharpest engagement of the war thus far". At one point an Iraqi unit indicated it wished to surrender, but then opened fire with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, hitting a troop carrier and killing nine Marines. The Marines had all trained together at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

Marine chaplain Gordon Ritchie
leads Marines in a brief service
at the scene, including a prayer
and a moment of silence.

NEAR NASIRIYA, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. Marines Friday recovered the bodies of seven fallen comrades who died in intense fighting around Nasiriya in southern Iraqi Sunday, officials said ... Most of the bodies recovered Friday were found in their burned-out armored vehicle. When the Marines arrived on the scene, they recovered five bodies, said U.S. Marine Capt. Scott Dyer, who oversaw the recovery effort. Some Iraqi civilians came out and showed where they had buried two others, he said. The Iraqis also handed over the personal effects of at least one of the Marines, including photographs and some mail, Dyer said. Marine chaplain Gordon Ritchie led the group in a brief religious service at the scene, including a prayer and a moment of silence. "Marines care for their own," Ritchie said. "And that is in life and in death. And so they see their duty not complete until they are resting in their homeland with their families."

Among the dead were: Sgt. Michael E. Bitz of the 2nd Assault Amphibious Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, N.C. The other eight Marines were all assigned to the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Camp Lejeune, N.C.: Lance Cpl. David K. Fribley, Cpl. Jose A. Garibay, Cpl. Jorge A. Gonzalez, Staff Sgt. Phillip A. Jordan, Lance Cpl. Thomas J. Slocum, Corporal Randal Kent Rosacker, Lance Corporal Brian Rory Buesing, 2nd Lt. Frederick E. Pokorney Jr.

To read a more complete and corrected account of this battle by a Marine lieutenant who was there, Click Here.

Sgt. Michael E. Bitz, USMC

Sgt. Michael E. Bitz, 31, Ventura, Calif. He was assigned to the 2nd Assault Amphibious Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, N.C. Bitz grew up in Ventura and graduated from Hueneme High School in Oxnard in 1990. He leaves behind a wife and one-month-old twins whom he had not yet seen.

Lance Cpl. David K. Fribley, USMC

Lance Cpl. David K. Fribley, 26, from Lee, Florida. Fribley was born and raised in Atwood, Indiana, and graduated from Warsaw High School, where he was a standout athlete in football and track. At Indiana State, he competed in the shot put, and earned a degree in recreation and sports management. In response to the 9/11 attacks, he left a good job in order to enlist in the Marines. He was engaged to be married.

Cpl. Jose A. Garibay, USMC

Cpl. Jose A. Garibay, 21, from Orange, California. Garibay was born in Jalisco, Mexico. He played football at Newport Harbor High School. His ambition after military service was to become a U.S. citizen and a police officer.

Cpl. Jorge A. Gonzalez, USMC

Cpl. Jorge A. Gonzalez, 20, Los Angeles, California. He enlisted after graduating from El Monte High School. He leaves behind a wife and a three-week-old daughter whom he had not yet seen.

Staff Sgt. Phillip A. Jordan, USMC

Staff Sgt. Phillip A. Jordan, 42, Brazoria, Texas. Jordon grew up near Houston. He was a standout football player in high school and was considering becoming a pro bowler after leaving the Marines. He enlisted in the Marines at age 27, after a battle with Hodgkin's Disease. He leaves behind a wife of nine years and a six-year-old son.

Lance Cpl. Thomas J. Slocum, USMC

Lance Cpl. Thomas J. Slocum, age 22, from Adams, Colorado. Slocum graduated from Skyview High School in Thornton, Colorado in 1988.

Cpl. Randal Kent Rosaker, USMC

Corporal Randal Kent Rosacker, 21, San Diego, California, the son of a command master chief with the Navy aboard the USS Alabama. . Rosacker grew up in San Diego and in high school played football and baseball, and was a wrestler. He was married to his high school sweetheart.

Lance Cpl. Brian Rory Buesing, USMC

Lance Corporal Brian Rory Buesing, 20, Cedar Key, Florida. Buesing graduated from Cedar Key High School in 2000. He was an accomplished boat engine mechanic, and was intent on joining the Marines from his sophomore year. Immediately on graduating from high school, he traveled 45 miles to Chiefland, Florida, to enlist.

2nd Lt. Frederick E. Pokorney, USMC

2nd Lt. Frederick E. Pokorney Jr., 31. Pokorney is survived by his wife and daughter, who live in Jacksonville, North Carolina, near Camp Lejeune, where Pokorney was stationed. He had been assigned to the Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade.

As a teenager, Pokorney lived in Tonopah, Nevada, a small mining town midway between Las Vegas and Reno. He lived with Lieseke during part of his high school years after his mother died and his father left town to find work.

Lieseke considered Pokorney a son. One of the last letters Pokorney wrote arrived at Lieseke's home three days after the Marine died March 23.

Pokorney was a standout high school athlete in Tonopah, starring in basketball and football, and earning townspeople's respect for his work ethic and self-reliance.

Several hundred turned out to remember him last month at a memorial service.

Pokorney graduated from Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, before beginning his military service.

Pokorney became the first Marine from Operation Iraqi Freedom to be buried at Arlington Cemetery, hallowed ground for the nation's war dead. He was also the first soldier from Nevada to die in the war on Iraq.



March 23

The Department of Defense (DoD) announced on March 27 the identities of eight Marines whose status has been listed as Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown (DUSTWUN). They were engaged in operations on March 23 in the vicinity of the outskirts of An Nasiriyah in Iraq. They are: Pfc. Tamario D. Burkett, Lance Cpl. Thomas A. Blair, Cpl. Kemaphoom A. Chanawongse, Lance Cpl. Donald J. Cline, Jr., Pvt. Jonathan L. Gifford, Pvt. Nolen R. Hutchings, Lance Cpl. Patrick R. Nixon, Lance Cpl. Michael J. Williams.

Lance Cpl. Blair is assigned to the 2nd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion, Marine Air Control Group-28, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, Cherry Point, N.C. All other Marines listed below are assigned to the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Camp Lejeune, N.C. A search and rescue effort is ongoing.

Pfc. Tamario D. Burkett, USMC

Private First Class Tamario D. Burkett, 21, of Erie, New York: listed as missing in action in Iraq. He was lost during a fierce gun battle in the Iraqi city of An Nasiruyah last Sunday. The Pentagon described the ambush style attack by Iraqi Fedayeen guerillas as one of the worst setbacks for the U. S.--led coaltion to date in the hard fought war. Several Marines were killed, and eight are still listed as missing from that battle. Burkett is with the First Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, stationed in Camp LeJeune, North Carolina.

His parents were told their son was helping secure a bridge near Nasiriyah when his unit came under fire. "They dispersed and that was the last they saw of him,"

The Department of Defense announced on April 13 that it had changed the status of Pvt Burkett from Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown (DUSTWUN) to killed in action.

Lance Cpl. Thomas A. Blair, USMC

Lance Cpl. Thomas A. Blair, 24, of Broken Arrow (or Wagoner), Oklahoma: first reported as missing in action in Iraq. Blair is assigned to the 2nd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion, Marine Air Control Group 28, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing in Cherry Point, N.C., according to the Department of Defense. Blair joined the Marine Corps in August 1997 after graduating that year from Broken Arrow High School. He returned to the United States in October after a two-year deployment in Okinawa, Japan. He left for the Persian Gulf on Jan. 10.

The Department of Defense announced on April 30 it had changed the status of of Cpl Blair from missing in action to killed in action. His unit was engaged in operations on March 24 on the outskirts of An Nasiriyah in Iraq. His remains were recovered on March 28.

Cpl. Kemaphoom A. Chanawongse, USMC

Cpl. Kemaphoom A. Chanawongse, 22, of Waterford, Connecticutt, known to his fellow Marines as "Chuckles". He came to the U.S. from Thailand at age nine.

ASSOCIATED PRESS ~~ ARLINGTON, Va. -- Surrounded by Marines in crisp blue uniforms, Buddhist monks in flowing orange robes prayed over the casket of Cpl. Kemaphoom Chanawongse yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery.

Chanawongse, 22, was honored in a rare Buddhist prayer service at the cemetery, a ceremony that celebrated his life and the sacrifice he made in dying last month in a firefight in Iraq.

"Brothers and sisters take Kemaphoom Chanawongse as our teacher today," said Chuen Phangcham, president emeritus of the Buddhist Council of the Midwest, shortly after the echoes of the three rifle volleys and Taps faded away. "He is teaching us about life and the law of impermanence to remind us to be mindful in our daily life practice from moment to moment."

The mingling of military and Buddhist honors has been done before at Arlington, although this was the first in recent memory, according to cemetery staff.

The Marine known as "Ahn" by family and friends, from Waterford, Conn., was the 16th servicemember from the Iraqi war to be buried there. And his family is sure that is what he would have wanted. "If he knew that he would pass away, and if he had a choice -- (this) is his choice, I know that," his mother, Tan Patchem, said after the service. Struggling to keep her voice steady, her son's dog tags still dangling from her neck, Patchem said, "Everyone knows what Ahn is like and everyone is very proud of him. Everyone has a feeling that, other than sadness -- and sadness is still there -- but more than sadness, we're proud." Chanawongse and other members of his unit -- the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division based at Camp Lejeune, N.C. -- were declared missing in action on March 23 after a firefight near Nasiriya in southern Iraq. Three weeks later, his family was told he and six other Marines were killed in an ambush.

Yesterday, his brother Kemapasse stood at the gravesite and talked about Chanawongse's bravery.

"He was ready to go. ... There was no fear in his heart," he said, then turning to the casket, added, "Ahn, I love you, I'm very proud of you." Chanawongse was an American citizen who came to the United States from Thailand at age 2. He graduated from Waterford High School in 1999, but put his college aspirations on hold to join the Marines.


Lance Cpl. Donald J. Cline, USMC

Lance Cpl. Donald J. Cline, Jr., 21, of Sparks, Nevada, has a wife and two sons waiting for his return. Tina Cline said Thursday night she was encouraged by Marine officials who told her three members of her husband's squadron have been found alive. "Everytime I look at my oldest son, I feel it in my heart -- I feel it so deeply that he is OK," she told KTVN-TV in Reno. Tina Cline said she and her two sons, Dakota, 2, and Dylan, 7 months, are living with her mother in Sparks. Cline is assigned to the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade.

The Department of Defense announced on April 13 that it had changed the status of LCpl Cline from Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown (DUSTWUN) to killed in action.

Marine unit recommends Cline for Silver Star

25 Aug 2003, Reno Gazette Journal

Lance Cpl. Donald J. Cline Jr., the Sparks Marine killed in Iraq five months ago, has been recommended by his unit for the nation’s third highest medal for bravery for rescuing wounded comrades under fire. Cline and three other members of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade died when their amphibious vehicle was hit by enemy fire March 23 during an ambush in the southern Iraq town of Nasiriyah. “I think he deserves it. I really do,” said his widow, Tina Cline of Sun Valley. “And all his fellow Marines do, too.” Tina Cline said she has heard numerous stories of her husband’s heroic efforts to save fellow Marines. And a letter from Cline’s company commander in May told her he pulled wounded U.S. soldiers to safety while under fire just before he was killed by a grenade blast. “His heroic actions most certainly saved the lives of his fellow Marines,” Capt. Daniel Wittnam wrote in the letter. The Medal of Honor, awarded by Congress, is the nation’s highest military honor for risk of life in combat beyond the call of duty, followed by the Navy Cross and Silver Star. “It is an extremely high award, and it is the last of the three that is strictly awarded for valor,” said Mac Owens, professor at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. “The Marine Corps has tried to ensure that it is only for the truly deserved,” said the retired Marine colonel, who received a Silver Star during the Vietnam War. A board at the Marine base in Quantico, Va., will determine whether witness statements and other documents supporting the recommendation meet the criteria for the medal. The board also could award a lesser decoration. “I would hate to predict, but I would feel fairly confident that he is going to get it,” Owens said. “When somebody is recommended for one, I would say that they probably deserve it.”

Pvt. Jonathan L. Gifford, USMC

Pvt. Jonathan L. Gifford, 20, of Macon, Illinois, had talked about joining the Marines for 10 years before deciding to sign up, his father said. The vehicle Gifford was assigned to Sunday was found but the crew was gone, father Jonathan Lee Gifford Sr. told the (Decatur) Herald & Review on Thursday. Gifford, a graduate of Stephen Decatur High School, is assigned to 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade at Camp Lejeune.

The Department of Defense announced on April 14 that Marine Pvt. Jonathan L. Gifford, 30, of Macon, Ill., was killed in action during operations on the outskirts of An Nasiriyah, Iraq, on March 23. He had previously been listed as Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown (DUSTWUN).

Pvt. Nolen R. Hutchings, USMC

Pvt. Nolen R. Hutchings, 19, of Boiling Springs, South Carolina, joined the Marines in January, according to his father. Larry Hutchings said Marine officers visited him Tuesday to tell him his son was missing. Two days later, he told his wife he has no doubts his son will be safe, the (Spartanburg) Herald-Journal reported in Friday's editions. "I put Carolyn to bed and told her they'll look for our son and find him somewhere behind a sand dune," Hutchings said.

The Department of Defense announced on April 13 that it had changed the status of Pvt Hutchings from Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown (DUSTWUN) to killed in action.

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Hutchings to receive medal of heroism


Apr. 09, 2004 ~~ Associated Press

COLUMBIA, South Carolina -- More than a year after Marine Pvt. Nolen Ryan Hutchings was killed in the worst "friendly fire" incident of the Iraq war, his mother is set to receive a medal of heroism. Hutchings was one of several Marines killed March 23, 2003 - the fourth day of the war - near the city of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq amid a chaotic battle with Iraqi forces. Hutchings' family still has a lot of unanswered questions about the incident, but a recent report assured them that their son was a hero. "I think that's great. He deserved it," Hutchings mother said Friday from her Boiling Springs home. Her son helped the wounded and aided in recovering dead Marines before he was killed, she said. "He had to take over the machine gun on the AAV for a while. He went above and beyond his call of duty. I've been told there's no telling how many lives he saved." Officials have said 18 Marines were killed during the battle and as many as 10 could have died from friendly fire. Officials have said the investigators could not determine with complete certainty how many of the 18 Marines were killed by gunfire and missiles launched by the Air Force A-10 aircraft. Hutchings' mother was scheduled to receive the medal during a ceremony Monday. She said she was proud of her 20-year-old son, who had been transferred to weaponry from a "grunt" while he was on a ship heading to the Middle East. "He was enthused about doing something different. He wanted to learn and he did. And he did good," said Carolyn Hutchings, 49. U.S. Central Command investigated the friendly fire incident and officials briefed the Hutchings' family for several hours last month. The family said they were told their son was killed by an A-10 attack. Hutchings father, Larry, said he still wants to know how low the plane was flying and other details because he thinks the pilots may have been able to see American forces on the ground and should have held fire. A Marine forward air controller cleared two A-10 attack planes to fire on vehicles, not realizing they were American vehicles, officials have said. Larry Hutchings, 52, who has read most of the 800-page report, one-third of which is classified, said those involved in the incident should be held accountable, including the pilots. "Maybe I'm prejudiced because my son was there," he said. But it's "too easy to say, 'He told me to do it.' " With the news of the war playing on a television in the background, Hutchings' mother was concerned with the recent fighting. "It's scary, very scary," she said. "It's like, 'What's next?' "

Lance Cpl. Patrick R. Nixon, USMC

Lance Cpl. Patrick R. Nixon, 21, of St. Louis, Missouri ~ the son of a Vietnam veteran whose family has sent soldiers to WWI, WWII and Korea.

The Department of Defense announced on April 1 that it had changed the status of Lance Cpl. Patrick R. Nixon, 21, of Nashville, Tenn., from Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown to killed in action. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Camp Lejeune, N.C. His unit was engaged in operations on March 23 on the outskirts of An Nasiriyah in Iraq. His remains were recovered on March 30.

In photograph at right, Lance Corporal Nixon's casket is carried to his grave by the honor guard Thursday, April 17, 2003 at Arlington National Cemetery.

Lance Cpl. Michael J. Williams, USMC

Lance Cpl. Michael J. Williams, 31, Phoenix, Arizona. The parents of Phoenix native Lance Cpl Mike Williams USMC learned Wednesday, March 26, that their 31-year-old son is missing in action. Williams is a lance corporal in the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Camp Lejeune, N.C., based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. His outfit has been engaged in some of the heaviest fighting to date in the Iraqi war, around the strategic Euphrates River town of Nasariyah. Williams stands 6 feet 4 inches tall and is 240 pounds of solid muscle, and his size defines his position in his unit: carrying a 60 mm mortar on his back along with the rest of his gear. In combat, he doesn't fire the mortar, but goes out in front of the troops and calls out the target coordinates for the mortar to his squad mates. They aim the weapon based on those coordinates. He's older than most of them, having not joined the Marines until he was 29, but he runs three miles in 22 minutes. That's better than many of his squad mates, but it hasn't stopped them from calling him "Pops," and "Omar," short for "Old Man River."

Williams attended Deer Valley High School, but dropped out, later getting his GED, attending Glendale Community College and opening his own flooring business. In the days after Sept. 11, 2001, Williams joined the Marines. While in transit to the Gulf onboard the USS Ponce, he had an allergic reaction to the smallpox vaccine and was transferred to Saipan. He was told he could return home, but he refused.

The Department of Defense announced on April 30 it had changed the status of of Lance Cpl Williams from missing in action to killed in action. His unit was engaged in operations on March 24 on the outskirts of An Nasiriyah in Iraq. His remains were recovered on March 28.

Sgt. Brendon C. Reiss, USMC

The Department of Defense announced on April 9 that Sgt. Brendon C. Reiss, 23, of Natrona, Wyo., has been listed as Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown (DUSTWUN). He is assigned to the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. He was last seen when his unit was engaged in combat operations on March 23 in the vicinity of An Nasiriyah, Iraq. A search of the area is continuing.

This announcement was delayed until the Marine Corps completed all next-of-kin notifications.

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(April 2) PORT ANGELES -- A decorated Vietnam veteran, who was missing in action himself more than once in that conflict, says he holds out hope that his Marine sergeant son will turn up in Iraq.

Brian Reiss learned Monday that Marine Sgt. Brendon C. Reiss, 23, of Casper, Wyo., was missing after Iraqi soldiers ambushed his unit near a Euphrates River bridge.

"I know what he's facing," said Brian Reiss, who earned two Purple Hearts during his tour in Vietnam, where his battle experience included the Tet offensive in 1968. "With my prior experience in the military, I am concerned that with him being a sergeant, he's a prime candidate for torture or someone they'd like to extract information from."

Brendon Reiss, who shipped out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., in January, was trying to secure a bridge over the Euphrates River near Nasiriyah, Iraq, when his 12-member unit came under fire from nearby buildings, his father said.

The Marines told the elder Reiss that his son's unit was forced to abandon its vehicles to seek cover, while medical evacuation units retreated under attack.

"That was the last time he was seen," Reiss said. "It appears that all 12 are missing."

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The Department of Defense announced on April 12 that it had changed the status of Marine Sgt. Brendon C. Reiss from Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown (DUSTWUN) to killed in action. Reiss, 23, of Casper, Wyo., was assigned to 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, based in Camp Lejeune, N.C. His unit was engaged in operations on the outskirts of An Nasiriyah on 23 March. His remains were identified on April 11.



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