Sunday, November 21, 2004

On the front lines

We often hear about the bravery of our soldiers. Justifiably, the accolades never cease to rain down. But we don't hear enough about the bravery of our war reporters. Like our soldiers, they choose to put themselves on the front lines and risk their lives for a great cause. While our commanders, captains, lieutenants, and privates fight to bring democracy to Iraq, a handful of our journalists are fighting to ensure that truth is not a casualty of war.

In today's New York Times, war correspondent Dexter Filkins provided us with a riveting account of the Battle of Fallujah. An excerpt:

More than once, death crept up and snatched a member of Bravo Company and quietly slipped away. Cpl. Nick Ziolkowski, nicknamed Ski, was a Bravo Company sniper. For hours at a stretch, Corporal Ziolkowski would sit on a rooftop, looking through the scope on his bolt-action M-40 rifle, waiting for guerrillas to step into his sights. The scope was big and wide, and Corporal Ziolkowski often took off his helmet to get a better look.

Tall, good-looking and gregarious, Corporal Ziolkowski was one of Bravo Company's most opular soldiers. Unlike most snipers, who learned to shoot growing up in the countryside, Corporal Ziolkowski grew up near Baltimore, unfamiliar with guns. Though Baltimore boasts no beach front, Corporal Ziolkowski's passion was surfing; at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Bravo Company's base, he would often organize his entire day around the tides.

"All I need now is a beach with some waves," Corporal Ziolkowski said, during a break from his sniper duties at Falluja's Grand Mosque, where he killed three men in a single day.

During that same break, Corporal Ziolkowski foretold his own death. The snipers, he said, were now among the most hunted of American soldiers.

In the first battle for Falluja, in April, American snipers had been especially lethal, Corporal Ziolkowski said, and intelligence officers had warned him that this time, the snipers would be targets.

"They are trying to take us out," Corporal Ziolkowski said.

The bullet knocked Corporal Ziolkowski backward and onto the roof. He had been sitting there on the outskirts of the Shuhada neighborhood, an area controlled by insurgents, peering through his wide scope. He had taken his helmet off to get a better view. The bullet hit him in the head.


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