Covering a Marine's death

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L.A. Times staff photographer Rick Loomis writes about the battle for Fallouja at SportsShooter.com, a website for photojournalists.

I finally tried to wash the Marine's bloodstains from my pants the other day. It had been nine days since the battle and a daily dose of dirt and dust had all but masked what I knew lay beneath...With each spin around the pan, the water turned a deeper brown. And as the stains of Sgt. Josue Magana's blood became more apparent, I thought back to the day he was shot.
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The sound was deafening at times. The rumble of machine guns and the returning loud crack of AK-47 rounds flying toward the building pounded in my eardrums. In the next room a Marine fired his machine gun from the second story window. I was watching the seriousness on his face as he fought the onslaught. At that moment a flash of fiery orange enveloped the room. An RPG had scored a direct hit at head level of the Marine I was photographing. So sudden and violent it was, I only have a blurry frame to serve as a reminder. Only the wall of the home saved him from certain death. He was shocked however, screaming as he was knocked to the ground, stunned from the concussion and deafening roar of the grenade.

He took only a moment to regain composure and assess his emotions. He was clearly pissed. He stood back in the window and began firing with more determination than before. It wasn't long until another RPG crashed into the same position. Insurgent forces were well aware of the Marine's position and were determined to score a kill. The barrels of two M-240 machine guns became so hot from the rapid succession of fire that they melted and seized.

On the roof, another battle was raging. Marines on the roof were in such close contact with the insurgents that the two were lobbing hand grenades back and forth. Shrapnel was shooting all over the roof tearing into Marines fighting there. At least one pickup truck full of 15 to 20 fighters was seen heading into the fight.

At this time, another Marine who had rushed out to a second floor balcony moments earlier yelled, "I'm hit." One of several thousands of rounds fired in the opening 30 minutes of the battle had found its target. He gave an agonizing scream and yelled again that he was hit, hoping someone would rescue him.

Sgt. Nunez threw open the door and rushed out, returning moments later dragging Sgt. Magana across the floor by the grab handle on the back of his flak jacket. Confusion ensued. He was eventually dragged into the room where I was hunkered down. He had been shot through the back and was in severe pain.

While corpsman were concentrating on his injury, I could see that he was beginning to fade. His eyes were empty and began to close. He was mumbling about a letter from his daughter and I'm sure he began to concede that his life could end right there on the floor.

I was compelled to grab his hand and assured him that he would see his daughter once again. I looked him straight in his eye, telling him to look back at me, then squeeze my hand so I knew he was still with me. It was all I knew to do.

His account ran in some form in the July 11 edition of the Times Magazine. Loomis also has his own website.

(Via Romenesko)


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