Defense & National Security

Marine Risked Bleeding to Death to Stay With Unit

Some say that there are no more heroes. Marine Corps Capt. Shawn Michael Basco is one of many men from the war in Iraq who have proved otherwise. Basco was with the Marines who first entered Saddam Hussein’s crown jewel of a palace in the center of Baghdad. He was wounded there and eventually had to be medevaced out—but only after the battle was won. Basco received a Purple Heart and has been nominated for a Bronze Star with combat “V” for valor. During the battle for Saddam’s Al-Azumayah Palace, Basco met Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North (Ret.), who dropped into the palace grounds on a medevac helicopter while covering the war for Fox News. At a December 5 dinner in Washington, D.C., North’s Freedom Alliance gave Basco its eighth annual Defender of Freedom Award. In an interview a few days later, Basco—who served in the first Gulf War as an enlisted man, before the Corps sent him to college and made him an officer—told his story. “I was an F-18 fighter pilot stationed in Japan on 9/11,” he said. “I was so disgusted, I was so angry that I asked to be transferred for a combat infantry tour as an air officer.” Basco, with his aviation expertise, would be responsible for calling in air support for Marines on the ground. Basco’s unit—Bravo Company of the 1st Battalion of the 5th Marine Regiment—left Saddam City at about 1:00 am on April 10, 2003, “my 33rd birthday,” said Basco. The Marines had taken Saddam City on April 8-9, and Bravo Co. “was no longer considered combat capable,” he said. “So Alpha Co. was in the lead, Charlie came next, and we were in the rear with the logistics people. We were all on top of amtracks [amphibious assault vehicles] looking for the enemy when we encountered about 3,000. Our convoy was five miles long at this point.” The Marines had 1,100 men. Severed Artery During this phase of the battle, “the vehicle behind me gets obliterated. I’m bleeding out of my nose and my ears from the shock of an explosion. Those little cockroaches, those fedayeen and Iraqis, were everywhere. They just keep coming at us. It reminded me of World War I, and we machine-gunned them down in waves. I was concerned that we were going to run out of ammunition. My gunny [gunnery sergeant] has his face severely burned off.” Then, Basco said, Alpha Co. takes a wrong turn in the confusion, and Charlie Co. follows it. “We didn’t see them turn,” he said. “We kept on going on the right course toward our objective, which was Saddam’s palace in downtown Baghdad. We were in the lead when we weren’t even supposed to be in the fight.” The primary weapon against the Marines was the rocket-propelled grenade, or RPG. “Our backpacks were saving our lives,” said Basco. “We hung them on the outside of our vehicles because there wasn’t room for them inside. The RPGs, which were really old, would get hung up in the backpacks and not detonate.” But there was plenty of cost. “I had guys shot through the face with a hole blown out the back of their skulls, but still putting out a pulse,” he said. Bravo Co. started out with 204 men and ended with 106 still combat-ready at the end of the entire battle, he said. Almost all of the others were wounded; four died. Said Basco, “We use an M1 Abrams tank to blow through the palace gates. Everything we saw, we shot.” The gun battle continued in the palace grounds. “My primary concern was to get our casualties out,” he said. “Remember, most of these guys are 18, 19, or 20 years old. Some guy had his lower jaw shot off and his tongue was hanging down. . . .” Later, Basco had to take off his shirt and wrap a gunnery sergeant’s head so that “my 18-year-olds wouldn’t see his brains leaking out.” (Asked if he looked forward to the day when women are included in ground combat units, Basco replied, “Don’t even get me started.”) Throughout the battle, Bravo Co. had no radio communications with headquarters. “We had only line-of-sight radios,” said Basco. “They don’t transmit far in an urban area. But it didn’t really matter because if you took time to stop defending yourself and put a handset to your face, you would get shot.” Alpha Co. and Charlie Co. made their way to the palace around dawn, and medevac helicopters started coming in and out to ferry the wounded. At one point, Basco ran up to a man in one of the helicopters, who he thought was the crew chief, to hand him a note asking for more ammunition. “I put my face close to his in order to talk above the noise,” he said. “I realized this guy was too old to be a crew chief. I realized it was Ollie North and I asked him why he was there. ‘I’m making a war movie,’ he said.” Basco remembered that he had a disposable camera with him, took it out, and snapped a picture of himself with North. “He slapped me on the back and said, ‘Captain, you’re doing great,’” said Basco. “I felt ten feet tall and bullet-proof after that.” But Basco wasn’t shrapnel-proof. He was wounded by an RPG. “I see it coming,” he said. “You know how you see a pass in football and know it’s a sweet pass? I could just tell. It impacts right at the base of the stairs of the palace in front of me. There’s a flash and heat and I go down.” A fragment cut the artery between the shin bone and the shin muscle in Basco’s right leg. “It also cut the nerve so there was no pain,” said Basco. But a severed artery can easily lead to death. “The battalion commander told me to go, but I refused because there was no one else to co-ordinate air support,” Basco said. “It was for that I was nominated for the Bronze Star.” Eventually, Basco lost so much blood that he had to be medevaced out, though not until the battle had calmed down. It was Ollie North, Basco said, who brought Basco’s actions to the attention of his regimental commander. The nomination is currently under investigation and review by the Marine Corps. North told HUMAN EVENTS that Basco was one of many American fighting men who deserved recognition for their actions in the Iraq War. “He’s representative of all of those guys,” North said. “We could have picked thousands of guys.” North said that he related the story of meeting Basco in his latest book, War Stories: Operation Iraqi Freedom. “I didn’t like looking out of the helicopter seeing the guys I was leaving behind,” said Basco of his medevac. “You develop a bond with these people better than I ever had with my wife. Better than I ever had with my mom and dad. It’s just different.” Today, Basco is again an F-18 pilot, currently stationed in Beaufort, S.C.

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