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Remembering The Battle Of Fallujah08:15
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Participants in the reunion of Marines who fought in Fallujah on a memorial hike to remember the Marines who were killed in the battle. (Courtesy of Chad Russell)
Participants in the reunion of Marines who fought in Fallujah on a memorial hike to remember the Marines who were killed in the battle. (Courtesy of Chad Russell)

"I mean we all have problems," Cratty told me. "We've all been in combat and when you're in combat you have a problem, and the only people you can talk to is the guy who's been there. He knows what you're saying. And that's what helps us."

Vietnam veteran Jim Keely also represented that Marine bond. He came to draw the line between his service in Vietnam to the men who fought in Iraq. "When we had our memorial ceremonies they came for us too," he said. "It's a bond that will never be broken." Keely said his battalion lost 564 Marines and sailors during the five years it served in Vietnam.

The Thundering Third lost 28 men during the Battle of Fallujah. It was a ferocious house-to-house fight to clear insurgents and explosives from the city, which is about 40 miles west of Baghdad. Chad Russell, who joined the Marines after growing up in Bend, Oregon, said the reunion to mark the 10th anniversary of the battle offered a chance to heal. "It's really cool to see all the people kind of fellow-shipping with their brothers and their families, and it's really special to have the families of a lot of our fallen brothers here too."

Cpl. Theodore Bowling posing with the flag he carried during the Battle of Fallujah. (Courtesy of Chad Russell)
Cpl. Theodore Bowling posing with the flag he carried during the Battle of Fallujah. (Courtesy of Chad Russell)

One of the high points of the reunion was a hike to the top of a ridge line on the base. It was a hike the Marines took in 2004 before they deployed to Iraq; 29 men who were on the hike that day 10 years did not come home. During the recent hike, the men carried a huge American flag to the top of the ridge. The flag belongs to Chad Russell. His grandfather gave it to him before Chad's first tour of duty.

And the journey it has taken is incredible.

Another Marine, Cpl. Theodore Bowling, asked Russell if he could carry the flag into the battle of Fallujah, and Russell gave it to him. But Bowling was killed in the assault and and Russell could not find the flag. He thought it was gone forever. But as the Marines were about to leave Fallujah, Russell found the truck Bowling had been riding in before he was killed.

The flag was there behind the seat, folded perfectly in a trash bag.

That flag later flew on each deployment Chad Russell did with the Marines. He even gave it to a friend who was also a Marine who took it to Afghanistan on his deployment.

At Camp Pendleton last Friday, it came back home just like the men of the Thundering Third did.

Correction Note: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment that died in the battle. The 3/1 lost 33 men during the Fallujah deployment, 28 during the actual battle. The 57 number stated in the audio and earlier version of the story refers to the number of Marines from the 3/1 who have been killed since 9/11. We regret the error.

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This segment aired on November 6, 2014.

Alex Ashlock Twitter Producer, Here & Now
Alex Ashlock has been a producer for Here & Now since 2005. He started his WBUR career as senior producer of Morning Edition in 1998.

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