Battle for Fallujah

7 November 2004 Phantom Fury- Vigil

Here I am, somehow caught up in this battle in the desert. Our President believes it is specifically to conquer terrorism and the evil forces of the enemy. He truly believes God is on his side. I don’t think terrorism will ever be conquered. It is like trying to eliminate hatred. Brothers have been hating brothers since the beginning of the human race. It is part of us. God help us.

10,000 troops from the United States of America are staged here in Fallujah. We say this is a coalition force. I see American troops, some Iraqi troops but hardly any troops from other countries.

I am the Catholic priest at Bravo Surgical. I am the only Catholic priest here. The injured and the “Angels,” or the dead, funnel through here.

Surgeons, doctors, nurses, corpsmen and Marines are staged and ready. Bravo Surgical has a motto: “Cheaters of Death.” We are moving to say instead, “Ready to Receive.” We have already experienced quite a few casualties.

This whole thing is bloody and confusing. If an enemy insurgent arrives whose injuries are slightly worse than an American’s…we must treat the insurgent first. O how I want to go home, yet I am dragged into this mess. I want to run away like Jonah. I know God will prevail. I know God is planning something beautiful. I don’t fear death.

St. Ambrose: Office of Readings

“Death” in this context is a Passover to be made by all mankind. You must keep facing it with perseverance. It is a Passover from corruption, from mortality to immortality, from rough seas to a calm harbor. The word “death’ must not trouble us; the blessings that come from a safe journey should bring us joy. What is death but the burial of sin and the resurrection of goodness? Scripture says: “Let my soul die among the souls of the just,” so that I may cast off my sins and put on the grace of the just, of those who bear the death of Christ with them, in their bodies and in their souls.

Saint Paul to Timothy in his second letter (2:11-12):

Here is a saying you can depend on: If we have died with
him, we shall also live with him; if we suffer with him,
we shall also reign with him.

God was preparing me for what was to come.

10 & 11 November Phantom Fury: Al Fajr

Two Marines were in serious trouble. I had planned to go to bed but decided to hang around. I am almost deliriously tired. In fact, I may be too tired to cry. Even my tears feel dry and lonely. Gene and Joseph were in Trauma Beds One and Two. At first, there were too many people in the room. And then I saw their dog tags, both of which said, ‘Roman Catholic.’ I love the Church, especially the notion that at the moment of death, we can shout, “I am Catholic! I want my Father!” How can I be Father? I’ve not raised these boys, yet at the moment of need, they beg for strength, courage and the life of Our Father; “You O Lord! Father, Dad, Beloved!”

“I can’t do it!” I shout to God in the core of my being.
“You can do it!” God shouts back to me.

O no Jesus! They must let go of everything! I believe, I believe, I believe! But they don’t always believe. It seems they must be taught in the fleeting moments woven with terror and fear…your love. Their last contact with this wretched world needs to be love.

Gene’s friends were hovering as the docs and nurses searched for fragments of his life. However, I didn’t know they were his friends. I didn’t know this Marine was a member of Bravo Surgical just a few months ago. How would I know this? I moved away from Gene when I read his eyes…his body would no longer hold onto his soul. The tattooed dragon on his right shoulder would remain until his skin was no more, but Gene was moving forward. God promised. God is faithful. Today you will be with me in paradise.

Gene passed out after I anointed him, and I moved to Joseph in Trauma Bed Two. Joseph was the son of Monica. I encouraged Joseph to breathe in and out. Joseph was getting cold, and I stood near his head. It seemed my place was reserved, yet I didn’t understand. O Jesus, I didn’t know what to do. Somehow, I felt so inadequate, like I didn’t know what I was doing. The stones covering our hearts are so terrifyingly big.

The most important matters in my life at this moment were saying the Jesus prayer and teaching Joseph to breathe. Here I was, coaching again. I rubbed Joseph’s head, held his hand, searched for ways to warm him, and encouraged him with whispers. He was so thirsty, and I couldn’t give him anything. I desperately wanted to give him a drink, but he was going into surgery. I felt ill-prepared for this. I felt I hadn’t fasted or sacrificed enough for my prayers to be answered. The doctors cut Gene’s side to massage his heart. He couldn’t breathe, so I returned to him. My words were jumbled…they are for the living…I knew Gene would die…yet I said nothing…I couldn’t…Help me to understand!!!!!

Joseph was then moved into the operating room…and I carried things that needed to be moved, and I found myself in the room. I talked to Joseph all the way but not before seeing the doctors were letting Gene go.

I left the operating room and returned to the trauma room as Gene’s face was being covered. I rushed into the room silently saying, “No!” I held his head in my hands that break the sacred bread of the Body and Blood of Jesus…and I prayed; I don’t know what…
I prayed the prayer attached to Gene’s dog tags that also stated he was Roman Catholic:

Dear Lord Jesus, I realize I am a sinner. I repent for my sins and right this moment I receive you as my Lord and Savior. Amen. I will be strong and courageous. I will not be terrified, or discouraged for the Lord is with me Wherever I go!

I bent down and kissed Gene’s forehead. I truly loved him even though I had just met him. Later, with Mortuary Affairs Marines and with his friends, I prayed and then sang.
Into your hands O Lord, we commend the Body and Soul of + Gene Ramirez. If God is for us, who can be against us? Give us rest O Lord!

* Joseph Heredia died in Germany ten days later, on November 20. I didn’t hear the news until over a year later as I was writing this book at Prince of Peace Monastery in Oceanside, California. I really loved this kid and expected him to make it. My heart breaks for his poor mother, Monica. Please lift her up in prayer.

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