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In Fallujah, Marines Feel Shock of War

The column of Marines kept moving, with Vetor riding in the medical vehicle and Barbosa continuing on foot. Barbosa said the unit had to keep moving so the air power could come in behind them and clear the houses the insurgents were shooting from.

"There wasn't one house that didn't have weapons," Barbosa said. Every house had at last one rocket-propelled grenade and a couple of hand grenades, he said.


A street in western Fallujah lay deserted and rubble-strewn in the wake of fighting between Marines and insurgents. About 80 percent of the city was reportedly under U.S. control. (Anja Niedringhaus -- AP)

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"They were very prepared," Vetor said, as he and Barbosa sat next to each other on a green cot in the field hospital's overflow medical ward.

"Like they were waiting for us," Barbosa said. "They were waiting for us."

As he walked along the street, Barbosa said, he had to step gingerly around improvised explosive devices that had been strung together.

About an hour later, Barbosa and Vetor found themselves in a large, vacant residence not far from the scene of the gun battle. The Iraqi special forces assigned to their unit found some rice and vegetables and made lunch. The Marines were nursing their wounds and eating hot chow when an explosion occurred nearby, shattering the windows and flicking shards of glass into the food.

It was 1:45 p.m.

Five hours later, Barbosa and Vetor made it out of the city to a staging area. They were taken to the military hospital, where on Saturday afternoon they were watching a movie and waiting to be transferred back to their unit.

Barbosa, twirling a cigarette lighter in his hand, planned to get back into the fight. Vetor, who said he could squeeze shrapnel out of his facial wounds, would not be able to return just yet.

"You know it could happen to you, but you really don't think it will be you," Vetor said, looking at the TV screen. "I'm just glad I was part of it. I was glad I got to fight with these guys. It had to be done. We were really fighting. We were doing great. It doesn't stop us. We'll keep going."

Barbosa said that even when the offensive was officially declared over, his squad planned to remain in the city to keep the peace. He expected things might get worse then, particularly if the artillery and mechanized infantry move out.

"We're not going to kill everyone, and they're not all going to surrender," he said. "I know that a lot of them are left. They'll wait for things to calm down, and they'll come back. They always do."

Barbosa said he would, too, and took a swig of juice from the box in his hand.


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