Fall of Fallujah vexes veterans, families of U.S. troops who died there

  • Article by: ALLEN G. BREED and JULIE WATSON , Associated Press
  • Updated: January 8, 2014 - 7:58 PM

Some wonder if U.S. losses there were in vain.

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Former Marine Corps scout sniper Earl J. Catagnus Jr., at his home in Eagleville, Pa., on Wednesday. “If you watch ‘NCIS’ or anything that has a Marine ... they always say, ‘Oh, I was in Fallujah,’” says the Purple Heart recipient, who left the military as a staff sergeant in 2006 and is now an assistant professor of history at Valley Forge Military Academy & College in Wayne, Pa. “For the new generation, it’s because everybody keeps mentioning it. And that is the battle that really made a warrior a warrior. ... It’s just for us as Americans, because we’ve elevated that battle to such high standards ... that it becomes turned into the ‘lost cause,’ the Vietnam War syndrome.” (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Photo: Matt Rourke • Associated Press,

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– Shirley Parrello knows that her youngest boy believed in his mission in Iraq. But as she watches Iraqi government forces try to retake the hard-won city of Fallujah from Al-Qaida-linked fighters, she can’t help wondering if it was worth Marine Lance Cpl. Brian Parrello’s sacrifice.

“I’m starting to feel that his death was in vain,” the West Milford, N.J., woman said of her 19-year-old son, who died in an explosion there on Jan. 1, 2005. “I’m hoping that I’m wrong.”

The 2004 image of two charred American bodies hanging from a bridge seared the city’s name into the American psyche. The brutal house-to-house battle to tame the Iraqi insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad cemented its place in U.S. military history.

Some see a brief reversal

While many are disheartened at Fallujah’s recent fall to Islamist forces, others try to put it in the context of Iraq’s history of internal struggle since the ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

“I’m very disappointed right now, very frustrated,” said retired Marine Col. Mike Shupp, who commanded the combat team that secured the city in late 2004. “But this is part of this long war, and this is just another fight, another battle in this long struggle against terrorism and oppression.”

Former scout sniper Earl J. Catagnus Jr. fought and bled in the taking of the ancient city. Now a military historian, Catagnus feels the battle has taken on an almost disproportionate importance in the American mind.

“That is the battle that really made a warrior a warrior,” said the Purple Heart recipient.

In the annals of the Marine Corps, the battle for Fallujah looms large.

The fighting there began in April 2004 after four security contractors were killed and the desecrated bodies of two were hung from a bridge. The so-called second battle of Fallujah came seven months later.

For several bloody weeks, the Marines went house-to-house in what has been called some of the heaviest urban combat involving the Corps since the Battle of Hue City, Vietnam, in 1968.

American death toll was 100

About 100 Americans died and another 1,000 were wounded during the major fighting there.

That’s why the Al-Qaida takeover is such a bitter disappointment for many.

Former Marine Lance Cpl. Garrett Anderson’s unit lost 51 members in the city. When he considers whether the fighting was in vain, it makes him ill.

“Our job was to destroy our enemy. That was accomplished … and is why our dead will never be in vain,” he said.

Roman Baca, who served in Fallujah for about eight months as a sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserves, said it’s hard for him to hear people question the military’s work there.

During his time, his machine gun platoon delivered school supplies and food and water.

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