By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
AT THE COURTHOUSE IN RIVERSIDE, Nazario picks up the story where Weemer and Carlisle leave off three years before. After the two Marines are shot, Nazario rushes into the house with several other members of 3rd Squad. His team finds Carlisle in a room, bleeding profusely, but can't immediately evacuate him.
"There was no way to bring him out without going through the kill zone," Nazario says.
Five Marines remain trapped in one room, while the entire platoon swarms outside the building to help rescue 3rd Squad. The insurgents hold the higher ground upstairs and can't be attacked with heavier weapons like machine guns or rockets, which could potentially kill or injure the Marines inside. Sergeant Norwood lays dead on the floor and another two Marines, Sergeant Brad Kasal and Private First Class Alex Nicholl, are shot multiple times within moments of entering the house.
"We were all pretty much sitting ducks," Nazario recalls. While Corporal Robert Mitchell Jr. tends to Carlisle's injuries, Nazario looks for a way out. The Marines outside the building have no way to locate those trapped inside to attempt a rescue. Nazario takes down a large curtain rod from the wall and radios a team outside. Listen for banging sound on the wall, he says. A Humvee circles the building, but the Marines driving past don't hear anything. Nazario continues banging the rod against a wall. On a second pass, the vehicle locates the room. The only possible exit, a window, is covered by bars. A Marine outside suggests blowing the wall down. Nazario looks around the room, which is stocked with mortars and explosives, and realizes that any secondary blast could kill everyone inside. He has another idea. Nazario instructs the Humvee to ram through an exterior gate, then fix a chain to the window bars and tear them from the wall. The idea works and the Marines pour through the hole, finally able to extract Carlisle.
"Once we were out of that room, there was no need to be in that house," Nazario says. The Marines destroy the building — and the insurgents inside — with an explosive charge.
Carlisle and Weemer are evacuated to a field surgical unit, then to Balad. Carlisle arrives in time for surgeons to reconstruct the damaged artery in his left leg. After the two men are packed into the cargo hold of a C-141 jet and flown to Germany, their unit will be in the battle for several more days.
"I was just glad we were able to save his life," Nazario says of Carlisle.
The Marines give the firefight a name: Hell House. It is immortalized in two books, one of which is in preproduction for a Universal Pictures feature. An emblematic photograph of the war came from the incident — of Sergeant Brad Kasal being carried out of the house, soaked in blood, clutching his pistol. The parents of Sergeant Byron Norwood, the Marine who died in Hell House, joined President Bush at the State of the Union address in 2005. At Camp Pendleton, Sergeant Kasal and Corporal Mitchell receive the Navy Cross for their heroism at Hell House; several more members of 3/1 are decorated for their role in the firefight. In February 2005, Nazario stands before Kilo Company at Camp Pendleton and receives the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation with Combat Distinguishing Device for his valor at Hell House. Both Weemer and Carlisle receive a Purple Heart; Weemer is awarded a commendation medal. At the time, Hell House seems to be the heroic coda to their military careers.
But their war doesn't end in that house. Two years later, Weemer, according to his attorney, sits down to interview for a job with the Secret Service. He's received an honorable discharge from the Marine Corps and, like other former squad mates, hopes to begin a career in law enforcement.
During that job interview, he remembers something about the first day his unit entered Fallujah. He tells his interviewer that on November 9, 2004, just days prior to the heroics at Hell House, some of his squad members broke the laws of war. As a resulting NCIS investigation moves through members of 3rd Squad, the story emerges with new allegations — that Nazario and others, including Weemer himself, had executed prisoners who had surrendered to them. Carlisle, who is no longer a Marine, provides testimony about the killings, helping to build the indictment against his former squad leader Nazario, and one of the men who saved his life.
IN MARCH 2003, AS THE COALITIONinvasion forces mass on the Kuwaiti border, General James Mattis, the commanding general of the first Marine division, under which Kilo 3/1 falls, prepares a message for his troops. "We will move swiftly and aggressively against those who resist, we will treat all others with decency, demonstrating chivalry and soldierly compassion," he writes. Then, invoking the epitaph of the Roman dictator Sulla, he closes: "Demonstrate to the world there is 'no better friend, no worse enemy' than a U.S. Marine." It's a charitable translation; the line has another interpretation: "No one has done more good to his friends, or more evil to his enemies."