The Marine Corps attempted to conceal an incident that occurred at a schoolhouse in Fallujah, Iraq, on April 12th, 2004, initially telling both the injured soldiers and family of the deceased comrades that the incident occurred as a result of hostile fire until an inquiry under the Freedom of information Act revealed that it had been friendly fire.
When you have put your own life in harm’s way in defense of your country you are owed a gigantic debt of gratitude from the whole of society. If you are a family member of a soldier that served and gave their life to protect our country’s freedom you, at the very least, are owed the truth. The Marine Corps has failed two families and a dozen of former Marines that were injured in a friendly fire accident in Fallujah, Iraq, on April 12th, 2004.
According to NPR, “An NPR investigation found that the explosion at the schoolhouse in Fallujah was a tragic accident — the worst Marine-on-Marine “friendly fire” of recent decades.” In wartime, there are tragic accidents that occur, with the worst being when our soldiers accidentally kill our own on the battlefield. In an environment where you are called upon soldiers to make decisions and act quickly because any hesitation could cost soldiers their lives, sometimes mistakes are made.
That is exactly what occurred on this fateful night in Iraq when Marine Lance Corporals Brad Shuder and Robert Zurheide were killed when an 81 mm mortar round landed in a school courtyard that was being used by the US military as a temporary base. Marine Corps leaders knew immediately that this was an errant mortar mission that was approved by 1st Lieutenant Duncan D. Hunter. 1st Lt. Hunter just happens to be the son of U.S. House of Representative Duncan L. Hunter who at the time was the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee which was responsible for oversight of the war in Iraq.
Shuder and Zurheide both died from the incident, and 12 other Marines were critically injured, with three of them having to be retired from the armed services due to the severity of the injuries they sustained. Upon informing the families of the deceased and the injured men, the Marine Corps initially communicated that the incident was a result of hostile fire from the enemy. Even though documents show that it was immediately recognized as a friendly fire incident, and three officers were recommended for punishment.
Major General James Mattis rejected the recommendation, and none of the officers were ever punished. In NPR’s investigation, they discovered Duncan Hunter’s involvement in the incident and noted that his name was suspiciously absent from any of the Marine documentation. Questions have arisen about why he was not named if he was the officer that ultimately approved it and was directly responsible for the Marine casualties.
When the official investigation by the Marine Corps was concluded and they acknowledged it was caused by friendly fire it took another three years before the families of the victims and the injured soldiers learned the truth that the incident wasn’t an attack perpetrated by the Iraqi insurgents. Only after family members of the deceased Marines pressed Congress to file a request under the Freedom of Information Act to get the official report did the truth come out. The Marines initially said they could not locate the report which triggered a further investigation that led to Marine leaders being ordered to appear before Congress to answer questions about the incident under oath.
It’s been 19 years since the incident occurred and there are still many unanswered questions about why and what happened that night in the school courtyard in Fallujah. It still haunts the survivors of the incident as they attempt to move forward in their own lives. It also should be noted that Duncan Hunter went on to become a Representative of the House which was the same congressional seat his father formerly held.
Was there political motivation behind the coverup and lies the Marine Corps told the families and injured marines? Why did it take congressional hearings three years later for the truth about the friendly fire to be confirmed after years of the Corps denying that was the case? Why wasn’t the most tragic friendly fire incident of the war not utilized to amend operating procedures and train future marines so they incident doesn’t repeat itself?
A lot of questions and there are still people out there searching for those answers. The truth is what is owed to the men that gave their lives for our freedoms and the men that have been disabled since that night. One day hopefully they can receive a bit of closure and heal from the trauma this has caused all of them. That closure should have been delivered over 19 years ago but the Marine Corps let these men and women down.