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Borderland    Monday, March 31, 2003

Rescue effort for Bliss unit left 9 Marines dead, 8 missing

Diana Washington Valdez
El Paso Times

U.S. Marines were sent to rescue wounded members of the 507th Maintenance Company on March 23, the day the Fort Bliss unit was attacked in Iraq, but nine of the Marines who took part in the rescue effort were killed and eight others are missing, Pentagon officials said Sunday.

Meanwhile, efforts by the Red Cross to secure access to the American POWs have not succeeded, officials said Monday.

U.S. military officials also confirmed that the four bodies discovered a few days ago in shallow graves are of American troops, but have still not determined the branch of the military in which the troops served, much less their names.

"They have not been identified yet," Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Owens, spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said Sunday from Doha, Qatar.

Owens also said Iraqi paramilitary forces known as Fedayeen were involved in the attack against the 507th Maintenance Company that left two of the 507th soldiers dead, four wounded, five captured and eight missing.

Sunday is the first time U.S. military officials revealed that Marines conducted a search-and-rescue operation to recover the wounded Army soldiers. All but one of the missing Marines was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, from Camp Lejeune, N.C.

A U.S. Mortuary Affairs team was sent to investigate the site of the graves near Nasiriyah, which is in the general area where the attack occurred.

"The Iraqi paramilitary or irregular forces includes the hit squads and the Fedayeen that are loyal to Saddam Hussein," Owens said Sunday. "They are the ones that attacked the maintenance supply convoy." Coalition commanders said the Fedayeen were trying to cut the American supply lines reaching back to Kuwait.

Among the 507th's wounded are Spc. James Grubb of El Paso, and Cpl. Damien Luten of Indianapolis. Luten was shown in widely distributed photographs last week with a teddy bear tied to his stretcher as he was being taken to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C.

He told his mother, in a story published in the Indianapolis Star on Sunday, that a group of Marines saved him and some other members of the 507th. "A couple of guys got shot up pretty bad," he told her.

A memorial service was held Sunday near Checkpoint Charlie south of Najaf for the two members of the 507th who were killed when their convoy made a wrong turn and drove into an area controlled by the Saddam loyalists. Spc. Jamaal Addison, 22, of Atlanta, and Pfc. Howard Johnson, 20, of Mobile, Ala., were killed.

"One week ago, things went terribly wrong," said the chaplain, Capt. Scott Koeman. Consoling the troops, he said, "Death comes hand in hand with war."

Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, with the U.S. Central Command, said Fedayeen have changed in and out of uniform, used civilians, including children, as human shields, and were forcing Iraqi regular troops to fight on threats of death. U.S. troops who are moving toward Baghdad have run into strong resistance from these Iraqi paramilitary fighters.

Relatives of the Fort Bliss soldiers who are missing or are POWs said it's hard to deal with not knowing what has become of their loved ones.

"Because the Red Cross has not been able to get in there, we don't know how they're doing," said Claude Johnson, father of Spc. Shoshana Johnson, 30, of El Paso, one of the POWs. "I know she's alive from the videotape and pictures that were shown, but I wish I knew more."

The International Committee for the Red Cross reported on its Web site Sunday that heavy bombing shook its offices in Baghdad. The Red Cross has been trying to gain access to the POWs since news of their capture aired last week.

The Iraqi government videotaped the 507th soldiers who were captured and also showed what were reported to be the bodies of U.S. soldiers. High-ranking U.S. military officials who viewed the tape said it was possible that the soldiers were executed after attempting to surrender.

Phyllis Hudman, mother-in-law of Spc. Joseph Hudson of Alamogordo, said the soldier's wife is in contact with the military daily, "but they don't have any new information for her."

"I'm sure it's the same with all the families," Hudman said. "Their hearts are breaking, just like ours."

Hudson, 23, of the 507th, was among the five Fort Bliss soldiers who were captured by the Iraqis on March 23. He was one of the soldiers who was interviewed and videotaped by the Iraqi government.

Alamogordo residents took part in a rally Sunday night to show support for Hudson and the rest of the troops in the war.

Ronald Voltz, a retired Navy veteran who organized the rally, said Alamogordo residents were asked to flash lights, wave U.S. flags, honk car horns or use other noisemakers. The city proclaimed Sunday as "Support our Troops/POW/MIA Day."

"We're doing this for the young man from Alamogordo who is being held as a POW in Iraq and for his family," Voltz said. "We have a lot of kids from all over the world in the war who are away from home."

Randy Kiehl of Comfort, Texas, father of Spc. James Kiehl, one of the 507th members who are missing, said he searches the Internet constantly and watches as much television coverage as possible for any information about his son or his unit.

Two Army officials visited his home Wednesday regarding his son, but "they did not have any more news other than what we already knew."

Randy Kiehl said there are 1,500 people in Comfort, Texas, "and I think I've heard from all of them. ... People are calling constantly to support us, and there are yellow ribbons everywhere."

Diana Washington Valdez may be reached at dvaldez@elpasotimes.com; The Associated Press and Bloomberg News contributed to this story.

Extras
Send message of support to Fort Bliss families
Tribute to casualties from the 507th
Rescued, injured from the 507th
Casualties/MIAS database
Photo gallery of memorial ceremony
Timeline of Iraq crisis
Iraq daily pictures
More coverage
Associated Press
Gannett News
USA Today
El Paso Times
Articles
Mourners sing birthday tribute for soldier
Families look forward to reunion with former POWs
Andress High School to honor former POW Johnson
Small town gathers to pay tribute to Kiehl
Officials say Patriot missile shot down U.S. plane
Talks with former POWs focus on prevention
To help troops and families
7 POWS freed
Johnson family kept faith
Release thrills Hudson family
Footage of Hernandez cheers kin
Church rejoices in news of member's release
Son's release fills mother with joy
Former Bliss POW's family thankful for Iraqis' 'good side'
El Pasoans revel in news of 507th POWs' release
Fort Bliss elated by liberation
Family of killed troops glad POWs are safe
Safe return answers prayers
Bliss POWs' release inspires joy, reaffirms faith
Soldiers' families forget cares for day at ranch
Jessica Lynch begins long road to recovery
Photos of released Fort Bliss POWs
LOCAL VOICES: Did you believe that any of the five POWs from the 507th would be found alive before today?
OTHER VOICES
7 WHO SURVIVED
300 mourn 507th hero
9 WHO DIED
Friends, family recall influence of fallen officer
Former POW Lynch arrives at U.S. hospital
200 attend 1st visitation for soldier
U.S., Red Cross hunt for Fort Bliss POWs
Jessica Lynch paintings, coins for sale on eBay
Stealths, 300 airmen head back to base this week
Fort Bliss soldier's family searches for facts about ambush
507th company hero laid to rest in Kansas cemetery
Arizona town honors daughter, mother
Cleveland bids farewell to Pvt. Brandon Sloan
LOCAL VOICES: Do you think the United Nations should have a role in rebuilding Iraq and forming a stable government?
Bliss mourns loss
Families bid last farewell to loved ones
El Pasoans rally to support troops
El Paso parents finally receive son's remains
Pecos honors fallen son
Search for POWs continues
Bliss soldiers 'stand a little bit straighter'
Body of slain Bliss soldier returns home
Prayers to flow for 9 who died at Nasiriyah
Bill would help soldiers become U.S. citizens
Military hopes to gain information on missing
Ex-patriots: Iraq needs inclusive government
Town gets ready for soldier's homecoming
Local voices: How do you think El Paso should honor the 507th soldiers?
Safety of POWs top concern for U.S.
El Pasoans worry real battle is yet to come
Iraqi-American overjoyed by fall of regime
El Paso, Pecos families await soldiers' bodies
Ex-POWs carry many emotional, physical scars
Town wants to meet Jessica's savior
Tribute to troops
Prison raid gives hope to 507th families
Body of slain soldier comes home today
Gifts pour in for rescued POW Lynch
507th deaths could bring trials for war crimes
Hutchison salutes fallen Bliss soldiers in Senate
Military police company bound for Kuwait
POW's father worries about scams
El Paso plans memorials for 507th dead
200 remember Bliss soldier killed in Iraq
El Pasoans split on what Saddam's death means
Weapons flew 1st over White Sands
Commander says range's future is great
Burges High newspaper just 1 in nation covering war
Local voices: Should the United States play a key role in rebuilding Iraq?
Injured soldier reunites with El Paso family
Patriots' success outweighs bad in new war
Hopi soldiers face internal conflict
Churches offer support to Fort Bliss families
Lynch family greeted with smiles from injured Jessica
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