Life from the battlefield: Eyewitness accounts
What follows are accounts of the battle in the soldiers’ own words:
Staff Sgt. Jeff Young, 25, from Killeen, Texas
A sniper with 2-7 Cav.’s scout platoon, Young was one of dozens of snipers from all services and even other coalition partners.
“The ones we were getting shots on and killing were really obvious.
“Ninety percent of the job is observation and reporting, and 10 percent is the actual trigger-pulling. I thought it would be the other way around.
“We actually got pinned down a couple times and called for suppressive fire so we could get off a roof or get out of a room.
“We did have one that actually ... hit our building for a couple of days. On the third or fourth day, he actually got rounds into the building. We got lucky when the sun was going down. It hit his scope at the right angle and we got a glare in our direction, so we engaged it. We’re not 100 percent on the [result], but he gave us a few scares.
“That’s what part of our job entails, being patient and waiting for the shot or waiting for someone to make a move.
“The anticipation kills you because you know they’re somewhere out there. They could be in the building right across the street from you and you’re not in the right spot, or don’t have the right angle, or they just haven’t made a move yet.”
Staff Sgt. Gregory Van Horn, 27, from Pottstown, Pa.
A Bradley commander for Company C, 2-7 Cav., Van Horn’s crew provided support for ground troops during the fight, firing 3,200 25 mm high-explosive rounds and thousands of 7.62 mm rounds. Their first major fight was on the battle’s second day.
“The next morning brought the good news that we were going to attack Objective Commanche, which was moving toward the inner ring. That was our first taste of the real all-out gunfight in the city.”
“As we moved down toward the inner ring, there was a mass of small arms fire, RPGs coming from both sides of the road and straight ahead. We pushed down, directly behind two tanks. Once we got down there, the tanks peeled left and we continued straight toward the inner ring.
“That’s when all hell pretty much broke loose. We had multiple RPGs being fired at the same time. We were engaging mainly with 25 mm HE straight ahead at the buildings just on the outer part of the inner ring. In the middle of the gunfight, we were told to stop the attack and pull back for the first round of the peace talks.”
Sgt. Chad Overman, 23, from Pocahontas, Ark.
A team leader with Company C, 3-153rd, Overman was the first American into the exclusion zone surrounding the Imam Ali mosque in the battle’s final days.
“We were set to clear three buildings with about 13 dismounts [foot soldiers]. The Bradleys first secured a perimeter and the Humvees drove in there and dropped us off. We went into the first building but it was burning so we could only clear about half of it.
“Then we crossed the street and cleared this motel, which was actually burning, too. We went up into there and [Spc. Brian] Hill actually shot an RPG guy. All you could see was his head and he hit him. He dropped and the RPG fell out. They slowly drug his body back. It was like a 200-meter shot.
“Then we ended up going north into the exclusion zone another 150 meters or so. We ended moving down the alley and got shot at from the front and we could see a couple of guys moving around, but we couldn’t shoot them. We just fired to suppress them, keep them from firing at us.
“It took us about 30 minutes to move 150 meters because we were zig-zagging back and forth and getting under cover. We were dismounted into the exclusion zone further than anyone else for the first couple of days.”
Spc. Keith Dow, 24, from Portland, Ore.
A squad automatic weapon gunner with Company B, 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry Regiment, attached to 2-7 Cav. Dow survived an RPG hit on his position during an early-morning guard shift.
“We were doing two-hour shifts and ... I was trying to keep myself awake. I ... decided to grab a piece of paper. As soon as I bent over, all I felt was something like a horse kicking me in the chest and saw a bright light. I didn’t hear it, or see it, or anything else. Then I’m on my back and all I can taste is gunpowder. It was a strange feeling. I didn’t know what happened and it felt like my head was blown to pieces.
“My squad leader was with me and asked me if I was all right. I was like, ‘No, I’m down.’
“I crawled toward his voice because I couldn’t stand up, and we kind of helped each other walk out of there. Our medic checked me out; I just got just a couple of scrapes and bruises. This big refrigerator that we put up in the window saved our lives. It was just kind of shocking; it rung my bell. I couldn’t hear anything for a day and a half or two days.”
Staff Sgt. Santiago Larriva, 26, from Nogales, Ariz.
A tanker with Company C, 3-8 Cav., attached to Apache Co., 2-7 Cav, Larriva was the tank commander for the first M1A2 to enter Najaf.
“We had all of our tanks and Bradleys with us and as soon as we hit the bottom of the hill we got hit with an IED.
“We crested the top of the hill and that’s when the RPGs started flying. It looked like a ghost town up there. There was nothing on the streets except donkey carts. No people running around, no cars, no civilian traffic.
“There was a lot of cat-and-mouse up there; they’d run up an alley 800 meters out. They’d stop in the middle, sometimes, and fire an RPG and keep going. You didn’t know when it was coming, but you knew it was coming at some point. A lot of times it was when you least expected it, of course.
“There were a couple of days when they’d use donkey carts that had a rope tied to them and an RPG on it. They’d slide it into the middle of the alley and it’d fire but it was so inaccurate.
“This fight definitely keeps your head in the game at all times because there was always something going on. Even when we were back at chow you’d hear mortars or snipers firing.”
Sgt. Cody Wright, 24, from Cabot, Ark.
Late in the battle, four soldiers cleared a basement containing three militia members. One of the enemy threw a grenade, slightly wounding the soldiers. Two of the three militia members were killed in the ensuing hand-to-hand fight. A medic with Company A, 3-153rd, attached to the 2-7 Cav, Wright cared for the wounded.
“We didn’t have anything major until ... the final assault push. They received RPG fire ... and a couple of guys got shrapnel wounds. We fell back a little to a house to get away, get some cover. Then we had the team go down into the basement and there was somebody down there. One of the hostiles threw a grenade at the team and that’s when we received the worst of the casualties.
“It could have been a lot worse. We were really lucky. I was surprised at the amount of casualties we took. I expected major gunshot wounds ... but nobody was injured as bad as I thought. I though about it every day; I’m glad it didn’t happen.”