Interviews were conducted with the following individuals whose names appear in the story: James Boskovitch (Cpl. Jeff Boskovitch’s father), Lt. Col. Michael H. Brown, Gunnery Sgt. Michael Brady, Cpl. Todd Corbin, Cpl. Stan Mayer, Staff Sgt. Dan Priestley, Major Shenandoah Sanchez, Sgt. Jeff Schuller, Staff Sgt. Matthew Thresher.
Other interviews: Sgt. Eric Francis, Lance Cpl. Russ Parker, Staff Sgt. Mike Pavlick, Staff Sgt. Guy Singleton.
Documents: USMC After Action Reports for 7 May, 30 July and 1 August. USMC Command Chronologies from January 1 through September 21, 2005. Press releases from 3/25 and the Department of Defense. DOD’s National Strategy for Victory in Iraq, 11 November 2005. The May 7 Eyewitness Statements of Cpl. Robert Childress, Corbin, Cpl. Adrian Garza, Lance Cpl. Justin Henderson, Mayer, Sgt. Ryan Pace, Schuller and Lance Cpl. Steven Wilfong.
General news sources: For background information, I consulted the work of The Washington Post’s Ellen Knickmeyer, The Chicago Tribune’s Michael Martinez and The Associated Press’ Antonio Castaneda, all of whom were embedded with 3/25 at some point during the tour. Other newspaper stories are listed in the notes.
Other sources: I checked legacy.com for biographical information about Marines who were killed, as well as obituaries and other stories written about them in their local newspapers. For background, I read a number of blogs written by Marines. “Why Iraq Has No Army,” James Fallows, The Atlantic December 2005. NewsChannel 5 investigation into the snipers’ deaths by Adam Shapiro, Jan. 6, 2006. Ansar al-Sunnah video and public statement.
It’s been … service: Mayer.
The Marines of 3/25 … Hussein: Brown. Marines news release, 10/3/05. “Iraq Turnout is Higher Than in Last Two Ballots,” Washington Post, 12/22/05.
That’s the press-release version … terror: DOD report 11/30/05. Brown. Almost every Marine I interviewed said 3/25’s struggles with insurgents were constant and evolving, from the mortars on their camps to the IEDs on the roads.
… when 16 Marines … among them. : Department of Defense press releases. USMC Command Chronologies.
MARCH AND APRIL
Mayer and Graham … earn: Mayer, Schuller. Mayer’s eulogy, delivered at the Haditha Dam memorial service.
He wasn’t sure … spades: Brady, Mayer, Schuller.
Not in … heading: Brown, “On Call in Hell,” Newsweek, 3/20/06
At any time … caution: Thresher, Mayer, Schuller, Brady
And Schuller … landmine: Brady, Mayer, Schuller
Its commander … pretty.”: Brady.
But the recruitment-poster serious … do: Mayer, Schuller
Although Marines … kids: Brady, Mayer, Schuller.
All of the times and tactical details in this section about the Haditha Hospital ambush on May 7 came from the Marines’ 1 August 2005 After Action Report. The rest was reconstructed from multiple interviews with Brady, Mayer, Priestley and Schuller, who told me about the night as they remember it. When possible, I compared their versions of events and checked them against the eyewitness statements of other Marines present. I tried to keep out disputed information. Whenever that wasn’t possible, I’ve noted it below.
At the dam … IEDs: Brady
The battalion … tomorrow”: Priestley
Around 6:30 … Again: 1 August report. Priestley, Brady, Mayer.
Almost immediately … trouble: 1 August report, Brady.
Mayer smiled … experience it: Mayer
At the gate … sure of it: Mayer, Schuller
Two tanks … last: 1 August report, Mayer, Schuller, Priestley, Brady.
Mayer maneuvered … pump houses: Mayer.
They knew this road … cemetery: Corbin, Mayer, Brady, 1August report.
By then … on the ground: Mayer, 1 August report, Psalm 91.
Priestley … triceps: Priestley.
Schuller heard Priestley … hospital: Schuller. In their eyewitness statements, the following Marines say Schuller used the 240 Gulf machine gun to shoot at insurgents in the hospital: Mayer, Corbin, Henderson, Garza and Pace.
About 30 feet … get back to Graham: Mayer. In his eyewitness statement, Henderson noted that he saw Mayer and Fellouzis providing security to Graham’s body. In their eyewitness statements, Schuller notes Mayer’s multiple attempts to retrieve Graham’s body. Schuller also recalled him firing at the house. Pace saw him returning fire as well.
Schuller saw Mayer … insurgents: Schuller.
Priestley screamed … off: Priestley, Corbin. Eyewitness statements of Childress, Corbin, Henderson. Several witness statements say Wilfong acted as a corpsman, treating the wounded.
Another Marine lying … Marines: Priestley recalled someone putting his hand over the leg wound of Sgt. Watkins, the other injured Marine. He thought it was Wilfong, but Watkins told Brady it was him.
Schuller stopped firing … could: Schuller. Eyewitness statements from Pace, Henderson and Corbin mention Schuller helping carry the dead Marines.
A tank was trying … seven ton: Mayer
That seven-ton … way out of it: Priestley, Corbin, Mayer. In one statement, Childress recalls having to step on the dead in the seven-ton to get to a place where he could sit.
As his Humvee … guys: Mayer. Schuller. In several eyewitness statements, Marines mention the difficult decision to not pick up Graham on their way out of the fight. Wilfong says they “argued” about it. Corbin, the driver, knew Graham was dead and worried the failing seven-ton wasn’t going to make it back to the dam, so he chose not to stop.
Wilfong stood … awake!: Priestley
Brady … shooting: Brady
Through the scope … he said: Jim Boskovitch
At the hospital … payback: Mayer, Brady. Biographical information about the Wiener, Cepeda and Marzano came from the Marines themselves, Legacy.com and a number of newspaper articles and obituaries written about them.
Information from this section came from interviews with Mayer and Schuller. Mayer read the two paragraphs from his journal while I taped and later transcribed them.
Few jobs … resolve: Thresher, Brady.
One of his fellow … first: Thresher for the “Saturday Night Live” impressions. Jim Boskovitch for the rest.
Thresher’s spotter … insurgent’s: Thresher. The dates and basic information from these two incidents were recorded in the USMC Command Chronologies. Thresher also kept a log.
For months … were: Brady. 3/25 news release of Oct. 3, 2005.
On the morning of July 30 … in a good way: 30 July After Action Report confirmed all the hard facts of this incident, which had been relayed to me by Brady, Mayer and Schuller to a lesser extent. I described the landscape from looking at the pictures in the report. Mayer told me what he thought and how he felt during and after the van blew up. He also provided the following details: the craters in the road, the way he and Schuller looked at each other when they saw the van, the way the site looked after the explosion. Brady relayed what he said and thought throughout the incident, as well as the detail about the driver’s hands looking taped to the steering wheel and the information about the Marines’ injuries.
The building … each day: Mayer, Schuller.
At about … shot him too: Sanchez.
Mayer had earned … their dead friend: 1 August After Action Report provided basic information about what happened to MAP 9 and MAP 7, including times and positions. Mayer recalled what he was thinking, doing and feeling throughout the entire evening and provided the following details: the descriptions of the explosion, the site and the hurt children. Brady explained what he did that evening. He also described the dead child, backed up Mayer’s description of the site of the explosion and what they did as they waited for the mortuary team.
August got bloodier … 60: Multiple news reports, including “14 more Marines from Ohio unit die in Iraq,” The Associated Press, Aug. 4, 2005. Mayer’s journal entry.
Soon after … captured: Ansar al-Sunnah video and public statement. That video and statement were the part of the insurgency’s worldwide propaganda strategy. According to Major Sanchez, a staged event played out shortly after the attack was designed to intimidate the local people and recruit them: A man, dressed in desert cammies worn by the Iraqi Army, was paraded through a town and passed off as one of the captured snipers. To the average Iraqi, his fatigues would look similar to the Marines’ cammies. Then he was tied to a pole, executed and thrown off a bridge. The message was Look what we can do to the Americans.
Major … commission.”: Sanchez relayed this information to me two weeks after he, Brown and General O’Dell briefed the families. I asked Jim Boskovitch how he felt about the news. Boskovitch told me he felt the Marine command had been straightforward with him. He reached a similar conclusion after doing his own investigation: Mistakes were made, but “it’s not criminal negligence,” he said. “It’s complacency. It’s the fog of war.”
This entire section came from interviews with Mayer and Schuller. The description of the girls’ homes came from the Marines’ pictures.
The beginning of this section comes from first-hand observation of the August memorial service and the two homecoming events for 3/25. Priestley, Brady, Thresher, Mayer and Schuller provided information about what they’re doing now.