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Injured Soldiers Hold Press Conference

Aired March 31, 2003 - 09:59   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much for joining us now. The Bethesda Naval Hospital where we will hear from three soldiers or Marines injured in Iraq. Let's listen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I took three steps and stepped on a land mine. Nobody else was injured but me. I thank god for that.

QUESTION: I know that your families are certainly quite relieved to have you back here to the United States and alive. Do you have anything you would want to say to the families of the men and women who either may be missing or have been killed?

LT. COL. JOHN EWERS, U.S. MARINE CORPS: You know, I think that's a good focus, not just the -- those who are missing or killed in action but those who are still in harm's way out there. I think that's at appropriate focus. I think for all of them, I'd say the same thing: They're doing what they think is the right thing to do. And I think it's -- I think that they should take solace in the fact that these men and women are doing -- are serving their country. And -- and you know, I guess there is some -- you know, you read about protests and so forth, but they're really genuinely fighting for freedom, and that's -- I think that that's significant.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) there has been some criticism raised here in the United States of those who have decided to go out to particularly protest.

EWERS: I'll let these guys talk about that. I'll just say this. You really -- you really -- if at this point what we have seen from Iraq both in terms of what we found and the way they have acted doesn't validate and vindicate the president's decision to do this thing, then I just don't think they were paying attention.


EWERS: The fact that the reports of Iraqi -- I guess they are calling them Fedayeen, Saddam death squads, call them what you want. The fact that they are holding families hostages and forcing their families to -- the men in the family to do things, that is so unconscionable as to -- you know, it is almost self legitimizing for what we're doing. Go ahead.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Also heard reports that they have actually fired on their own people trying to escape Basra. Did you come into contact with any of the Iraqi civilians, any of the three of you? And if so, what was their response to you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't come in with any civilians.

LANCE CPL. BRADLEY SEEGEAT, U.S. MARINE CORPS: I was probably the closest in clearing buildings. Most of the civilians that I saw were fairly fearful, as you would be if any large military force suddenly appeared in your town. But, the ones that I saw were not hostile. They were just observing. The EPWs or the prisoners that I saw all seemed to be very cooperative, all seemed to be not resisting at all. They all seemed to just want to go home.

EWERS: I would just echo that. I would say that the -- I saw a whole bunch of civilians and Iraqi civilians, and at the same time they were very needy and they were very wary. And you know both of us, they just -- they seemed to be very -- as Lance Corporal Norman (ph) points out, there is a big war going on in their country. But needy is something that I think that -- they clearly were impoverished and oppressed in my estimation.

QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit more about what you were doing to secure buildings?

SEEGEAT: Yes. We had crossed the border early in the morning and we had moved to our objective, and we were in the process of clearing buildings. My platoon actually had gotten split up a little bit in the convoy. We were coming back together and moving through an area, clearing buildings, moving any enemy threat that was in there. When I got there, my platoon had already captured about 80 PWs and so I continued to clear buildings, continued to clear the rooms. And I just came across a door that I couldn't open. It was a metal door inside of a metal frame that was locked. It had a window in it. So to see if there was any enemy threat inside I broke the window out, and when I did some glass fell on my wrist and cut six of the tendons in my left wrist.

QUESTION: Did you break it with your hand or wit your weapon?

SEEGEAT: With my weapon. I broke it out with my weapon, and just from the force of that, some glass fell on my wrist.

QUESTION: So this was very early on then?

SEEGEAT: Very early on.

QUESTION: When was that?

SEEGEAT: It was the first day of actual ground combat.


SEEGEAT: It was an office administrative building, a very large office building.

QUESTION: You were one of the first ones?


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Your mission, you're an attorney, you are a lawyer. Can you say anything about what you were doing (OFF-MIKE)?

EWERS: Well, it wasn't actually just one mission. I will tell you a little bit about one of the things that I was doing. The day before, a young boy had apparently been injured in the fighting and had been brought to a 1st Marine Division checkpoint. And the Marines showing the compassion that I think they show very well, volunteered to have the boy medevaced for treatment. And you know, doing that in a situation -- in a fluid situation like combat is a little dicey, and the father was obviously very suspicious about turning his son over for help.

And then the best they could kind of do was give him a letter saying, you know, basically we have got your son for treatment. We'll try to reunite you with him. We had spent the day before trying to find the father to reunite him with the son and were back in the area essentially doing that. What we really -- what we really ended up doing was turning it over to the Brits because they owned the area at the time so we just turned the information that we had over in the hope that father and son would be reunited again. And that's essentially what I was doing out there.


EWERS: It's why I was in that area, yeah.

ZAHN: Well, you have just been listening to some of the stories surrounding the injuries of these three Marines who are talking for the first time. Some of them at the National Naval Medical Center where they have been transferred for medical treatment. Some of them describing some surprising tests of will. And we will get back to that a little bit later on in the morning.


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