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10 Years Later, Iraq Battle Still Sears Memories

Hundreds of battles were fought and thousands of lives lost in the war in Iraq. But the clash many remember is the Battle of An Nasiriyah. This weekend marks its 10th anniversary, and an Arlington veteran who fought in that battle is organizing a major reunion.

Dion Brugger says he’ll never forget the weeklong battle that marked the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Eleven Army soldiers were captured, and his unit was under fire near the city of An Nasiriyah, south of Baghdad.

“It’s a pretty chaotic environment,” Brugger says, “The enemy at the time was dressed in civilian clothes. You couldn’t tell who was friend or foe, so you had to take precautions with anybody around us.”

First Lt. Brugger was part of the Task Force Tarawa, the Marine brigade that secured the city and helped rescue captured U.S. soldiers. Among those soldiers was Private First Class Jessica Lynch – who at 19 became an icon of the war. Brugger, whose artillery unit was responsible for diverting enemy attention during the rescue -- says no one expected such a bloody battle. More than two dozen U.S. troops died that week in Iraq.

“It wasn’t anticipated they would be heavily engaged, but it turns out the people we were fighting were Saddam Hussein and Baath party loyalists; they would fight to the death,” Brugger says.

For months Brugger has been working from his home in Arlington on a reunion to commemorate those who fought and those who were lost. Hundreds of veterans will travel to Quantico, Va., this weekend. Marine Sgt. Adam Freeman of Lubbock is one of them.

“Once we got into this battle, it was hell," Freeman says.  "And to lose so many guys in one battle alone was just very significant to us.”

At the reunion, veterans, soldiers and families will visit Arlington National Cemetery and share artifacts – everything from maps and diaries to photos and audio recordings from the battle. About two dozen Marines from Texas will attend the reunion, where they’ll also have a chance to record personal interviews and archive their stories at the Marine Corps Research Center.

For Adam Freeman and Dion Brugger, this is an opportunity to get back in touch with friends they haven’t seen in a decade, and to remember friends they won’t ever see again. 

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.