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Local Marine recounts attack in Fallujah

Posted: May 25, 2008 1:32 a.m.
Updated: July 26, 2008 5:02 a.m.
Marine PFC Sam Hanson of Canyon Country returned from Iraq in mid-May. Marine PFC Sam Hanson of Canyon Country returned from Iraq in mid-May.
Marine PFC Sam Hanson of Canyon Country returned from Iraq in mid-May.

With a rifle slung over his right shoulder and a bullet-proof vest shielding his chest, Sam Hanson walked with his eight-Marine unit through a dusty marketplace in Fallujah, not expecting much to happen.

It was a hot morning on May 4 and Hanson, a private first class, had been in Iraq exactly one month. Vendors were "just going about their business" selling food like candy. Butchers were selling llama meat.

It was 10:50 a.m. when the unit noticed a suspicious device in front of a house. It looked like an improvised exploding device, an IED, said the 20-year-old Canyon Country native who returned home a week ago.

The men asked the homeowners if they knew what it was. It was just mortar tubing, they said.

Hanson's unit came to Fallujah to "keep the peace," to detonate IEDs, so the men examined the potential hazard.

They didn't know the device was meant to be a distraction.

Twenty meters away, a dumpster exploded.

Dust and smoke clouded his view of everything.

"I looked down to make sure I had all my body parts on me," he said.

Then he found a wall to hide behind and dropped to the ground.

"I looked back and wondered, ‘Why aren't I dead right now?'"

It took 10 minutes for the dust to settle. He felt a sharp pain in his left arm. He knew it was broken.

"I was just holding my bones together," he said. "I looked at my arm and saw it flopped over."

Two bones in his arm had snapped in half.

He plucked gravel out of the skin on his neck. Scrap metal was embedded in his leg. Another man in his unit stayed with him while another called for a medic helicopter.

The blast injured the group's leader, destroying both his legs, which have since been amputated.

The explosion left a large hole in the side of the dumpster, which had been thrown 20 meters.

Iraqi civilians may have been injured or killed, Hanson said. He hasn't heard.

Some of the other men in his unit looked around to find the person who pulled trigger, but no luck.

Hanson and the injured group leader were airlifted out.

Hanson's parents were camping in the mountains when they got the phone call. His mother, Lisa had seen the report on the news and had a sinking feeling her son was a victim.

"It was a rude awakening," said his father, David. "At 4 a.m. the phone rang and he said he got blown up. I asked, ‘Do you have all your arms and legs? Are you complete?'"

His parents were relieved, but still concerned.

Within a day and half of leaving Fallujah, he flew to Germany where he underwent surgery on his arm. Doctors used 13 screws to drill two plates into his arm to stabilize the bones.

Marines have since identified the man responsible for triggering the bomb. He had used a cell phone from a distance to set off the device.

The explosion has left him jumping at sudden noises and has recurring nightmares.

Hanson said he will not return to combat until his arm fully heals, which could be six months to a year. At the end of his 30-day medical leave, he will return to where he was originally stationed in North Carolina when he enlisted a year ago.

Though he would prefer to be back in Iraq fighting with his fellow Marines, he said it's good to be home.

"It's tremendously dirty over there," he said. "Not a good environment for people to be living in."

He said he could hear the eerie sounds of war around the clock.

"At five in the morning, five in the evening, two in the afternoon, you'd hear gunfire," he said.

But it's not gunfire he is most afraid of. Most of the casualties in Fallujah are caused by IEDs, he said.

"They're not really shooting at us, they're blowing us up," he said.


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