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Saturday, November 20, 2004

The New York Times > International > Middle East > In Falluja, Young Marines Saw the Savagery of an Urban War

The New York Times > International > Middle East > In Falluja, Young Marines Saw the Savagery of an Urban WarALLUJA, Iraq, Nov. 18 - Eight days after the Americans entered the city on foot, a pair of marines wound their way up the darkened innards of a minaret, shot through with holes by an American tank.

As the marines inched upward, a burst of gunfire rang down, fired by an insurgent hiding in the top of the tower. The bullets hit the first marine in the face, his blood spattering the marine behind him. The marine in the rear tumbled backward down the stairwell, while Lance Cpl. William Miller, age 22, lay in silence halfway up, mortally wounded.

"Miller!" the marines called from below. "Miller!"

With that, the marines' near mystical commandment against leaving a comrade behind seized the group. One after another, the young marines dashed into the minaret, into darkness and into gunfire, and wound their way up the stairs.

After four attempts, Corporal Miller's lifeless body emerged from the tower, his comrades choking and covered with dust. With more insurgents closing in, the marines ran through volleys of machine-gun fire back to their base.

"I was trying to be careful, but I was trying to get him out, you know what I'm saying?" Lance Cpl. Michael Gogin, 19, said afterward.

So went eight days of combat for this Iraqi city, the most sustained period of street-to-street fighting that Americans have encountered since the Vietnam War. The proximity gave the fighting a hellish intensity, with soldiers often close enough to look their enemies in the eyes.

For a correspondent who has covered a half dozen armed conflicts, including the war in Iraq since its start in March 2003, the fighting seen while traveling with a frontline unit in Falluja was a qualitatively different experience, a leap into a different kind of battle.

From the first rockets vaulting out of the city as the marines moved in, the noise and feel of the battle seemed altogether extraordinary; at other times, hardly real at all. The intimacy of combat, this plunge into urban warfare, was new to this generation of American soldiers, but it is a kind of fighting they will probably see again: a grinding struggle to root out guerrillas entrenched in a city, on streets marked in a language few American soldiers could comprehend.

The price for the Americans so far: 51 dead and 425 wounded, a number that may yet increase but that already exceeds the toll from any battle in the Iraq war.

Marines in Harm's Way

The 150 marines with whom I traveled, Bravo Company of the First Battalion, Eighth Marines, had it as tough as any unit in the fight. They moved through the city almost entirely on foot, into the heart of the resistance, rarely protected by tanks or troop carriers, working their way through Falluja's narrow streets with 75-pound packs on their backs.

In eight days of fighting, Bravo Company took 36 casualties, including 6 dead, meaning that the unit's men had about a one-in-four chance of being wounded or killed in little more than a week.

The sounds, sights and feel of the battle were as old as war itself, and as new as the Pentagon's latest weapons systems. The eerie pop from the cannon of the AC-130 gunship, prowling above the city at night, firing at guerrillas who were often only steps away from Americans on the ground. The weird buzz of the Dragon Eye pilotless airplane, hovering over the battlefield as its video cameras beamed real-time images back to the base.

The glow of the insurgents' flares, throwing daylight over a landscape to help them spot their targets: us.

The nervous shove of a marine scrambling for space along a brick wall as tracer rounds ricocheted above.

The silence between the ping of the shell leaving its mortar tube and the explosion when it strikes.

The screams of the marines when one of their comrades, Cpl. Jake Knospler, lost part of his jaw to a hand grenade.

"No, no, no!" the marines shouted as they dragged Corporal Knospler from the darkened house where the bomb went off. It was 2 a.m., the sky dark without a moon. "No, no, no!"

Nothing in the combat I saw even remotely resembled the scenes regularly flashed across movie screens; even so, they often seemed no more real.



Sunday, November 14, 2004

San Francisco Cronicle > Chinese American writer found dead in South Bay

Charles Burress, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, November 11, 2004
Iris Chang, the prominent Chinese American author and journalist who fueled an international protest movement against Japan with her incendiary best-selling book, "The Rape of Nanking," was found dead from an apparent self- inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said Wednesday.
Chang, 36, of San Jose was found in her car by a commuter about 9 a.m. Tuesday on a rural road south of Los Gatos, according to the Santa Clara County sheriff's office.
"I'm just shocked," said retired San Francisco Superior Court Judge Lillian Sing, who was helping Chang with a documentary on aging U.S. military veterans who had suffered as POWs in Japanese captivity during World War II. "She was a real woman warrior trying to fight injustice."
Stunned friends and colleagues sought to understand what might have led to the suicide of an energetic and passionate young woman who channeled her outrage over Japanese war atrocities into a busy career of writing and lecturing. Chang also wrote a history of China's missile program and chronicled the Chinese experience in America.
Ignatius Ding, an activist who worked with Chang for several years in seeking to have Japan acknowledge and apology for atrocities it committed during World War II, said Chang's current project videotaping the former U.S. prisoners of war had been emotionally taxing for her.
"She was doing research recently in Kentucky and ran into some problem," he said. "She got really upset, and she flew home." Chang lived in San Jose with her husband, Brett Douglas.
Ding, who heads the Cupertino-based Global Alliance for Preserving the History of World War II in Asia, said he did not know what kind of problem Chang might have encountered or whether it was a factor in her death.
He noted that she "took things to heart" and usually became emotionally involved in the tragic stories she wrote about.
Chang's white 1999 Oldsmobile sedan was found on an isolated private road west of Highway 17 near the Cats Restaurant. She apparently had died from a single shot from a handgun.
"There was evidence that was recovered that corroborated and was consistent with a suicide,'' said sheriff's spokesman Terrance Helm, who wouldn't disclose the nature of the evidence or if there was a suicide note. An autopsy is scheduled for today.
Her husband had filed a missing person's report with police at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, saying he rose early to find his wife missing and that she had been despondent, said San Jose police Sgt. Steve Dixon. Her husband told police he had last seen Chang at 2 a.m.
"She was passionate and articulate," said Ling-Chi Wang, a faculty member in Asian American studies at UC Berkeley. "It's shocking to lose such a young and talented person."
"It's a tragic loss," said Chronicle book editor Oscar Villalon. "She was one of the most visible Chinese American authors, who wrote a landmark book that brought to the attention, at least among her American audience, what was nonexistent as an issue."
Author of three books and many articles and columns, Chang's most famous work was her controversial 1997 book, "The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II," which described one of the war's worst atrocities.
Japanese army troops massacred many Chinese in Nanjing (then called Nanking) in late 1937 and early 1938, and Chang not only believed that the horrible event was in danger of being forgotten but also accused Japanese society of collective denial about it.
Translated into many languages, her book galvanized a redress movement in the United States. It was lauded in the U.S. media, drew criticism from several U.S. scholars on Japan and was vilified by right-wing publications in Japan.
The book also propelled Chang into an international spotlight. The year after it appeared, the Organization of Chinese American Women named her National Woman of the Year.
She received honorary degrees and lectured widely at universities, bookstores and conferences. She delivered the commencement address at Cal State Hayward in June.
"She has been a real role model for young Chinese Americans," Ding said, adding that Chang inspired many to consider being authors and journalists.
"She was also well-respected in China," he said.
Wang said she was an important interpreter of the Chinese American experience to the general public, adding that in her book on Nanjing, "she has done more than anybody to call attention to the outrage that took place."
Helen Zia, Bay Area author of "Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People," said Chang "wanted to bring voices to the fore, the stories shunted aside and ignored in history. This is a huge loss."
Andrew Horvat, Tokyo representative of the San Francisco-based Asia Foundation, said that "there will always be controversy over the accuracy and balance of her writings" but that she "did raise a level of consciousness that wasn't there before. ... In that sense, I think her contribution was very positive."
Chang's most recent book, "The Chinese in America," was named one of the best books of the year by The Chronicle. Her first book, "Thread of the Silkworm," told the story of the Chinese scientist who guided the development of China's Silkworm missile.
Born in Princeton, N.J., Chang grew up in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., where her parents are professors at the University of Illinois. Her grandparents' escape from Nanjing fed her early interest in what happened there.
She received a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Illinois and worked briefly as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune and Associated Press before entering a master's program at Johns Hopkins University in 1990.
She appeared on the cover of Reader's Digest as well as on many TV programs, including "Nightline" and "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," and she wrote for numerous publications, including the New York Times and Newsweek.
Chronicle staff writers Alan Gathright and Vanessa Hua contributed to this story.E-mail Charles Burress at cburress@sfchronicle.com