Marines fight in Ramadi in 2004. (AFP via Getty Images)
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The men of 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines arrived in Ramadi in 2004 prepared to support the economy and government of a critical Sunni city in western Iraq.
On April 6 those plans were cast aside when insurgents launched deadly attacks on the Marines throughout the city.
"We we're going there to improve the quality of life," said Lt. Col. Robert Weiler, who was a company commander with the battalion in 2004. "They basically started a jihad."
Marines fought with insurgents throughout the city in running gun battles that day. By the time the dust settled 12 Marines had been killed in action that day, a devastating loss for a single infantry battalion.
Under clear blue skies this past weekend the veterans of the battalion, called the Magnificent Bastards, gathered at Camp Pendleton in California to mark the 10th anniversary of the battle and the battalion's seven-month deployment. Hundreds of veterans of the battalion as well as families of the fallen gathered Sunday to reunite and reminisce.
Many wives and parents heard many stories for the first time, as veterans began opening up about their experiences.
Marines from the battalion had been getting together informally for years but this was the first formal gathering, which started as an idea from some families whose sons were killed in battle there.
Ramadi never dominated the headlines like Baghdad or Fallujah, a nearby city in western Iraq. But it was among the most violent cities in Iraq and played a critical role in ultimately turning the tide against the insurgency.
Only now is the significance of the city coming into historical focus, thanks to veterans who have kept the memories alive.
Years later American reinforcements would flood into Ramadi and tribal leaders would join the Americans in opposing al-Qaeda militants.
But back in 2004 the Pentagon still planned on reducing U.S. forces in Iraq and turning security responsibility over to Iraqis. Washington had yet to realize the size of the insurgency it was facing.
The Magnificent Bastards found out. They fought back hard against the insurgents after the initial April 6 attack, refusing to give an inch. "The next day we ended up killing a hefty number of bad guys," Weiler said.
On the third day, the Marines went around with megaphones, challenging the insurgents to come out and fight. "We ridiculed them and antagonized them and begged them to come out and fight," Weiler said.
There were no takers.
In a four-day period the battalion had killed 250 insurgents, according to the Marine Corps.
By the end of the battalion's tour in September 2004 they had lost 33 Marines and a sailor.
Marines and soldiers would continue fighting in Ramadi for several years, but in several days of aggressive fighting by Marines Ramadi had been saved from falling into the hands of insurgents.
Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy, who had been the battalion commander at the time, said in an email read at the memorial that that the Marines "were not victims of this fight."
"They're not there to feel sorry for themselves," Sgt. Maj. Jim Booker, added in an email from Afghanistan where he is now deployed. Booker had been the senior enlisted Marine in the battalion.
"They stood their ground," Kennedy said. "They took a bloodied nose and gave it back a thousand fold."
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