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 Eight Years Ago Today - Alive Day Remembrance

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Sloppy Joe Hemingway

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Age : 41
Location : Sweet Home Chicago (when not in the Keys)
Registration date : 2012-08-06

PostSubject: Eight Years Ago Today - Alive Day Remembrance   Sun Oct 07, 2012 2:03 am

It has been eight years since (as my friends know it by) "I got blowed the f**k up." I post this same thing every year, but, here it is again. I hope my kids will read this someday and understand my story, all the good and bad that having a Marine combat veteran for a dad means. For those of you reading this, I am glad I got a second chance at life so I could know you. Before I get too emotional (hey, no taunting! *laughs*), here's my story.

My platoon spearheaded the assault into a town southwest of Baghdad and southeast of Fallujah, called Yusufiyah, in the opening hours of Operation Phantom Fury. Yusufiyah lies on the western edge of the "Triangle of Death," and was a major supply point and weapons storage depot for the anti-coalition forces operating in and around Baghdad, Fallujah, and Ramadi. Our objective was to assault in, secure the town (ie, kill or capture all the bad guys), and cut off the supplies crossing the Euphrates River. It was pretty freakin' intense.

We moved by HMMWVs and 7 ton trucks from our FOB (forward operating base, FOB St Michael, the patron saint of Marines, police officers, and paratroopers) in Mahmudiyah, and were dropped off just outside of town. We patrolled in by squad (my guys and me being first squad of 3rd platoon of Fox Company, or "Fox Three Alpha" in radio-speak) in order to make contact with any enemy forces. As we were walking in, the townspeople were all walking out. Not at all a good sign. As we approached the souq (marketplace) in the center of town, we heard machine-gun fire followed by a loud explosion, just to the south. A VBIED (vehicle borne improvised explosive device) had attempted to ram into our hastily secured patrol base (an old Iraqi police station). One of the turret gunners in one of the Humvees had opened fire on the vehicle, stopping it before it could get close enough to do any real damage. The driver had managed to detonate the bomb before he died, sending car parts flying at hundreds of miles per hour in every direction. Thank goodness no one was injured. That opening day, we also took small arms fire, loads of mortars, RPGs, and 122mm rockets. At one point, my squad was on the roof a building providing cover for street-level patrols, when a rocket (trailing a crazy smoke trail) whooooshed just feet from us. It was so surreal, like something that should have been in a movie, not real life. As we were providing cover from that rooftop, a rocket hit the side of the building we were on, spraying shrapnel everywhere. A piece hit me in the face, not bad, just enough to draw blood and shock the hell out of me. Cpl Pergande, my first fire team leader, looked at me and said, "Maybe you should duck next time!" We both started cracking up like a couple of maniacs and we went on with business.

Sometime that first day, one of our patrols had visual on an enemy mortar/sniper position, and our FAC (forward air controller) called in a flight of Marine F-18 Hornets (Navy and Marine Corps fighter jets), to do a gun run. It was awesome to watch from just a few hundred meters away as the lead jet screamed in from 10,000 feet to about 200 feet in a matter of seconds before opening up with his 20mm machine gun, shredding trees, bushes and anything else in his path. The first F-18 was followed by two more. Those guys are DAMN good. They don't miss.

The nights in Yusufiyah were great, because we Marines would send out small patrols to look for movement around town. Meanwhile, the PsyOps (psychological operations) guys at the Iraqi PD would blast hard core rock music (Ozzie Osbourne, Rammstein, Metallica) on ginormous speakers through out the city. The bad guys hated it, we loved it.

The next day was spent in much the same way. Patrols, incoming fire (mortars and sporadic small arms stuff), and the like. My squad, led by my platoon commander, Lt Mike Mayne (by far one of the best officers I ever had the fortune of working for and with), also scouted around for a platoon base of operations. Along one of the canals, we found an apparently unoccupied three story building. It was one of the tallest buildings around, and easily defended. That night, we returned to the building. While my squad and another squad from my platoon secured the surroundings by laying out obstacles and concertina wire across the alley and road access, the remaining squad secured the building itself. Once secured, we moved into the building, put one squad on the roof to keep look-out, another squad stayed on watch inside (securing the ladder wells and hatches, or stairs and doors in Marine-speak). The last squad got some well deserved (and much needed) sleep. The squads rotated every few hours.

As morning of the third day broke, my squad and I took several of our intel guys out to some buildings on the edge of town to talk to some Iraqi civilians. They may or may not have seen enemy mortar teams setting up, and we wanted to talk to these farmers about it. If cooperative, they might be able to give us some great info. While the intel Marines went in to talk, my squad set up a large perimeter around the farm, to insure no hostile forces could get in to kill the civilians. With my guys set up, I took a position near the farm house, where I could keep in contact with the intel team, and also keep an eye on my entire squad, should we get attacked.

While I was sitting there, these two Iraqi kids came up to me with a glass of cold, cold water. It was probably around 120 degrees, and my water had all gone the temperature of hot coffee several hours earlier. I gladly accepted the water, and gave these two kids some candy, gum, and pencils I carried, just for that purpose. The kids could not have been more than eight, and were amazingly friendly. They tried to talk to me, and I tried to talk back in what little Arabic I knew. I showed them pictures of my kids, and they seemed amazed that I had children. I pulled out my little digital camera, and photographed them together, and then took a group shot of the three of us. It thrilled them to no end that they had had their picture taken. They ended up singing a song to me, which I was able to record with my camera. Suddenly, we heard the hated "bang!" of mortars leaving their tubes. The kids quickly went inside, and I got back to work. About thirty seconds later, the rounds impacted into the city, off to the southeast of us. I was able to get on the radio and talk to a flight of Cobra gunships (attack helicopters) that were flying cover for us, and direct them to the area where we heard the rounds come from. Unfortunately, the mortar team and already fled before the gunships were able to spot them. The intel team had finished their interview of the Iraqis, and we proceeded to head back to town.

Nothing much happened the rest of the day, other than finding a little shop that sold luke-warm sodas, and having the enemy drop more mortars on us.

That night, my squad had roof duty, followed by a 2300 (11 pm) patrol. I had been sitting inside, on the second floor, writing my patrol orders out. With about an hour left before we were to head out, I went up to the roof to hang out with my guys, see if they needed anything, and to brief my fire team leaders about the upcoming patrol.

Suddenly, we heard mortars being fired to our northeast. I didn't see where the first shot had come from, but, thirty seconds later, it landed right next to our building. I yelled to my guys to all take cover, and my radio man, LCpl Anderson, and I stayed in the open, to try and spot the point of origin of the mortars. I spotted the flash from the tube on the second shot, and took out my compass to begin getting a direction, so I could call for counter-fire. I then heard a noise. It sounded like a jet engine, quickly getting closer and louder. I knew it was that second round in-coming, and by the way it sounded, it was going to hit really, really close. I knew there was nothing I could do to get away from it, so I just ducked my head and waited. There was a really bright orange flash, followed by me being tossed off my feet, and a literally ear-shattering bang. I was totally and completely dazed. I felt no pain, so I figured I was okay. I had a hard time moving, though, and couldn't get up. I couldn't find my rifle, and realized I couldn't see out of my right eye. I heard voices yelling for a corpsman (medic) and someone yelled that I had been hit. I again tried to get up, and asked who had been wounded. I didn't think I had been hit, but was sure others had. About that time, I noticed the palm of my right hand was folded against my forearm, and I couldn't move it. Our corpsman, Doc Mota, and several of my Marines were taking my flak jacket and helmet off, and starting first aid on me. I was sure my right eye was gone, because I couldn't see out of it. I remember thinking to myself, "Well, that sucks..." Thank goodness it was still there, which I realized as one of my guys started wiping the blood from my face. A piece of shrapnel had grazed the right side of my nose, and I had nothing more than a bit of blood in my eye. As everything began to calm down (slightly) I asked my guys to check to see if I was still... intact, down there. I believe my exact words were, "Hey, guys, will someone do me a favor and check to see if my cock and balls are still there?" I was assured that I was fine, and got some good-natured joking, which helped to ease everyone's tension. I found out that our Iraqi interpreter, LCpl Anderson, and one of my guys (LCpl Dao) had all been injured, as well, but not badly. I started to worry when I noticed I could smell my own blood, and heard someone call a medevac helo, and tell them one of the wounded was "urgent surgical," the highest and most critical injury classification. As it turns out, I was extremely lucky. I would later find out I had been hit by an 82mm mortar. Russian-made 82mm mortars have a kill radius (meaning anything inside this range will DIE) of fifteen meters (45 feet) and a casualty radius (anything inside this range will be horribly maimed and wish they were DEAD) of thirty meters (90 feet). My mortar had hit three meters from me...

My guys carried me from the roof, down three flights of stairs to a waiting Humvee that would take me and the other wounded to the landing zone where a helicopter would pick us up. As I was placed in the back of the vehicle, the turret gunner accidentally kicked me in the head, something he would continuously apologize for, even months later when the battalion came home. Once at the LZ, we were unloaded, and the ten minute wait for the medevac helo began. At about that time, the pain started. My right leg and right arm burned, like no pain I had ever felt before. I started to get terribly thirsty, but wasn't able to have anything to drink, because I was on my way to surgery. One of my good buddies, Sgt Jacobs, talked to me while we waited for the helo, calming me down a bit. Finally, I heard the sound of rotor blades thumping in the distance, and they were getting closer. It was the best sound ever. As the helo hovered and began to land, all sorts of dust kicked up. I remember being loaded on to the helo, and a bunch of Marines told me to hang on, that they would see me soon.

The door of the Army Black Hawk was shut, and we took off. I laid back, and wanted to sleep. It felt so good to just relax. Suddenly, every death scene from every war movie started playing in my head. The ones where the wounded guy starts to fade, right before he dies. My eyes shot open, and it was everything I could to to stay awake. I was NOT going to die on the helicoptor, damn it! To keep myself occupied, I started talking to the flight medic. I remember his big flight helmet with a green Chem-lite stuck to the side. He told me to look out the window of the helicopter, because we were flying into Baghdad. He then started describing the sights to me, like a tour guide. It was awesome. I wish I knew his name, because I would gladly buy him a drink for keeping me alive and calm.

I then watched as the helo started to hover, and lights in what looked like a courtyard came into view. The helicopter descended, landed, and the doors opened. A bunch of medics loaded me on to a gurney, and rolled me into the hospital, which the medic told me was formerly a palace. I remember the doctors all talking back and forth to one another, describing my injuries, as they saw them, all in some kind of crazy medical jargon I couldn't understand. Finally, probably a minute or so after being unloaded from the helo, I was wheeled in to the operating room, with lots of bright lights. That is the last thing I remember until I woke up in Bethesda Naval Hospital a week later.

Thankfully, as Marine Corps order requires, I was wearing my helmet and flak vest. Had I not, I would literally have been cut in half by the blast. My injuries were as follows: Three of the toes on my right foot had been, as a doctor later described them, "pulverized." My right ankle was broken. My calf muscle from my ankle to my knee, on the outside of my leg, had been blown off. The artery in my leg was severed, causing me to lose blood as quickly as they were able to put it in. By the time they got the bleeding stopped and the artery repaired, I had been given 23 pints of blood and plasma. I had hundreds of pieces of shrapnel over my body, mostly on the right side. My right elbow, wrist and three of my fingers were broken. My right eardrum had been blown out and I had suffered a severe concussion. I was later told that my brain had been bruised and had swollen. During surgery, I bled to death; my heart stopped beating, I stopped breathing, and had to be resuscitated. It took me two weeks to learn to stand, and several months to walk normally. The worst part was feeling like I had let my guys down. I had horrible nightmares about my platoon not wanting to talk to me because I was home, and they were still in combat.

I thank my lucky stars and God above that I survived. I try and live my life the best that I can, and am glad every day that I am alive. Not a day goes by that I don't think about some aspect of my time in Iraq, but, thanks to the best, most understanding wife ever listening to me ramble, those memories have become much easier to bear (thank you, Aria. I love you!). I have an amazing family that have helped me through lots of really rough times. I love you guys, too. I hope it has made me a better person. If given the chance, knowing the outcome, I'd do it again in a heartbeat.


Last edited by Sloppy Joe Hemingway on Sun Oct 07, 2012 8:51 am; edited 1 time in total
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jogilli

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Location : Germany
Registration date : 2010-08-08

PostSubject: Re: Eight Years Ago Today - Alive Day Remembrance   Sun Oct 07, 2012 2:22 am

awesome story.... enjoy the life you've been given back

james
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dbreazeale

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Age : 50
Location : Upstate NY
Registration date : 2009-02-16

PostSubject: Re: Eight Years Ago Today - Alive Day Remembrance   Sun Oct 07, 2012 3:54 am

Thank you for your service and I'm glad that you are home alive.
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PostSubject: Re: Eight Years Ago Today - Alive Day Remembrance   Sun Oct 07, 2012 6:04 am

Shocked Shocked Shocked Shocked Shocked Shocked Shocked

Just Wow ! affraid

GLAD you pulled through and are here to talk about it !

What a Face
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Boulder&Briar

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Age : 37
Location : Oberlin, Ohio USA
Registration date : 2012-07-04

PostSubject: Re: Eight Years Ago Today - Alive Day Remembrance   Sun Oct 07, 2012 11:16 am

Wow, you are an amazing and strong person and it's people like you that make this world a better place. Your life experience definitely made an impact on my day brother. Thank you for your service to our country, live of human beings in other countries, and for being an inspiration and motivator for those that need it. And thank you for sharing your experience, as it is very up close and personal.
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Doc Manhattan

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Age : 38
Location : Land of Steady Habits
Registration date : 2008-05-26

PostSubject: Re: Eight Years Ago Today - Alive Day Remembrance   Sun Oct 07, 2012 11:23 am

Glad you are here to post about it, and a big salute to you and the people who teamed up to keep you on this side (including the donors of those 23 blood units.)
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Dreadgerbil

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Location : Boise, Idaho
Registration date : 2012-01-05

PostSubject: Re: Eight Years Ago Today - Alive Day Remembrance   Sun Oct 07, 2012 11:56 am

I'm glad you made it through and are there for your kids. Thanks you for serving.
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Rob_In_MO

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Age : 44
Location : Park Hills, MO
Registration date : 2011-01-19

PostSubject: Re: Eight Years Ago Today - Alive Day Remembrance   Sun Oct 07, 2012 12:18 pm

Thank You for your service, Sir.

It's an honor and a privilege to have you here.

Thank you for that story, it's quite remarkable and really touches those that hear it.
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Ocelot55

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Location : Columbus, OH
Registration date : 2012-03-28

PostSubject: Re: Eight Years Ago Today - Alive Day Remembrance   Sun Oct 07, 2012 12:36 pm

Shocked I'm speechless

Thank you for your service. That's a debt we civilians will never be able to repay.
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flytyer

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Age : 51
Location : N E Pa.
Registration date : 2009-03-22

PostSubject: Re: Eight Years Ago Today - Alive Day Remembrance   Sun Oct 07, 2012 1:06 pm

Thanks for telling your story,glad it turned out the way it did and you are able to share this special anniversary with us. Thankyou for your service.
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tech2576

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Age : 61
Location : North end of GA
Registration date : 2012-01-19

PostSubject: Re: Eight Years Ago Today - Alive Day Remembrance   Sun Oct 07, 2012 6:35 pm

Thank you sir, for your sacrifice and service.

Every one of us here owes you, for defending us and our way of life. Even if they don't agree with why you where there.

An amazing story and I am so glad you shared it with us.

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Jers

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Location : Ireland
Registration date : 2012-07-14

PostSubject: Re: Eight Years Ago Today - Alive Day Remembrance   Sun Oct 07, 2012 6:54 pm

Wow! What a read sir, absolutely amazing.

Thanks for sharing.

Fraternally

Jers
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Brewdude

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Age : 64
Location : Near the Emerald city
Registration date : 2011-05-04

PostSubject: Re: Eight Years Ago Today - Alive Day Remembrance   Sun Oct 07, 2012 9:09 pm

My most sincere thanks to you and your service to our country Sir.

And may God bless you in your continued recovery.

You are indeed lucky to be alive.





Cheers,

RR
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Thistleoak

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Age : 35
Location : Northwest Michigan
Registration date : 2012-08-14

PostSubject: Re: Eight Years Ago Today - Alive Day Remembrance   Sun Oct 07, 2012 9:43 pm

Sloppy Joe... Brave men and women like you are why we are free..... Brave men and women like you are why we can enjoy the liberties we have....
America is nothing with out her true heros like you.... I had no idea that you had went through that until I had read your post.. When I got up this
morning I only personally knew two of the toughest SOB's to walk Gods green earth.... I know have the honor and pleasure of knowing three of them...
God Bless you brother and Miigwech for your service and protection to our great nation
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gravel

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Age : 43
Location : Oregon
Registration date : 2011-12-07

PostSubject: Re: Eight Years Ago Today - Alive Day Remembrance   Sun Oct 07, 2012 11:13 pm

Wow. Thank you for sharing this story!

With that, I think I'm going to start donating blood. Some soldier may need it someday.
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Sloppy Joe Hemingway

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Age : 41
Location : Sweet Home Chicago (when not in the Keys)
Registration date : 2012-08-06

PostSubject: Re: Eight Years Ago Today - Alive Day Remembrance   Sun Oct 07, 2012 11:22 pm

Thanks for the kind words, guys. Hopefully I didn't come off as "grand-standing" which is not my intent. It's just cathartic for me to get it out, even if its just once a year. And Gravel, you and me both, Brother. I try to give blood when I can! Who knows who might need it!
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kieveryuu

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Location : Greater Boston
Registration date : 2012-01-07

PostSubject: Re: Eight Years Ago Today - Alive Day Remembrance   Tue Oct 09, 2012 9:05 pm

Thank you for sharing and for serving.
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Dutch

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Age : 52
Location : On the road.......
Registration date : 2010-11-06

PostSubject: Re: Eight Years Ago Today - Alive Day Remembrance   Wed Oct 10, 2012 4:25 am

Thanks so much for your service Sloppy Joe, it's great to have you participating here on the boards! cheers cheers cheers
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Slide



Age : 55
Location : Benton, Louisiana
Registration date : 2011-11-23

PostSubject: Re: Eight Years Ago Today - Alive Day Remembrance   Wed Oct 10, 2012 7:12 am

Thank you for your service and thank you for sharing your story.
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PeterD

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Age : 65
Location : Hixson, TN (Chattanooga Area)
Registration date : 2012-06-04

PostSubject: Alive Day Rememberance...   Wed Oct 10, 2012 9:10 pm

My sincere thanks for your service...

Your story should inspire and enjoy this second chance...
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huffelpuff

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Age : 47
Location : Laramie, WY
Registration date : 2011-12-10

PostSubject: Re: Eight Years Ago Today - Alive Day Remembrance   Thu Oct 11, 2012 1:01 am

Thank you for your service!

It's an honor to know you. Enjoy the precious gift you've been given.

Jim
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