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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

News Conference by Wounded U.S. Troops

Aired April 16, 2003 - 06:01   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: The news conference has begun in Germany. This is at the Landstuhl hospital, where four American troops injured in the Iraq war are speaking right now -- let's listen.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

CAPT. SHAWN BASCO, U.S. MARINE CORPS: ... they have offered me a lot more, and I have felt a lot more than they have felt from the services that I was providing for my country. My hats off to them, and I think America should know that these are the finest medical people in the world, and they've done a great job for each and every one of us. And I think I speak for all four of us up here when I say that, and those of us that are yet to have this opportunity.

My name is Captain Shawn Michael Basco. I'm from Cleveland, Ohio. I'm with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. My job for the battalion is I'm a forward air controller. Normally, I'm an F-18 pilot, but I came with the infantry to serve, to provide airstrikes and close air support in support of our ground-scheme maneuver, so I'm with the infantry the entire time.

I'm normally stationed out at Camp Pendleton, California. I deployed to Iraq some months ago. We stayed in Kuwait actually, and then we crossed the border.

The day that I was injured, on April 10, my 33rd birthday as the colonel had mentioned, ironically. About 01:00 in the morning, 1:00 in the morning a.m. in Baghdad time, we were north of the city heading south on the main road. As we proceeded south, we met heavy resistance from the Special Republican Guard and the Iraqi forces that were guarding the main road heading into the heart of Baghdad.

Once we arrived at the palace, that's where the fighting got pretty significant there, by then we had already accumulated a few casualties, and we kicked off a pretty significant battle. We quickly, within 20 minutes, had absolute control of the presidential palace inside of Baghdad.

And what I did -- my job at that point was to be a forward air controller, calling in airstrikes, as well as calling in Medivac helicopters to take out our wounded at that time. What I utilized was basically Saddam's front yard. I took the green grass right next to his own pool, and I used that to bring in our CH-46 helicopters from the 3rd Marine Air Wing, which are extremely brave individuals that flew in under very hostile fire.

At that time, I was wounded after the second helicopter came in when the enemy were firing a volley of rocket-propelled grenades. We refer to those as RPGs. Frequently, you'll hear that today. The shrapnel went through my right leg and was wedged kind of like between the bone and the muscle of the shin.

By the virtue of the fact that Marines, like the gentleman next to me, the soldier next to me, were obviously more significantly wounded, I stayed on the battlefield for an additional three hours to ensure that these Marines, who were significantly more wounded that I, got out of the battlefield and got to the care that they needed.

On the spot, the corpsmen were quick to take care of myself, and then as the battle proceeded for the next hour, I was able to get out on a supply helicopter once we had control of the palace and the surrounding neighborhoods within the palace.

And one thing I would like to say is, while I have this opportunity and I have the mic, that it's absolutely an honor and a privilege to be here as a Marine and as a U.S. citizen participating in this.

Thank you.

CPL. DAVID MCCALLEN, U.S. MARINE CORPS: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Corporal David McCallen. I've served proudly for the last four years under the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines.

I was in my unit. We moved into Baghdad on April 10, and before moving into Baghdad, we were told that the enemy had, you know, just been occupying buildings, there was no longer a force. It was just individual actions. They had dropped uniforms, so they put on civilian uniforms, so they blended in with everyone else.

We were moving in there, hoping to find enemy, you know, pockets of resistance here and there to try to take out the enemy, you know. Upon us entering Baghdad, the Iraqi civilians, you know, greeted us, and they just had open arms. They were cheering for us, you know, giving us everything they had. They were proud that we were there, and they wanted us to be there. They were happy to see us.

As we moved through Baghdad, we dismounted troops from our armored vehicles. As they walked the streets, the Iraqis were coming up shaking our hands, you know, cheering for us. You know, they were proud that we were there to help them.

But at the same time, it was also kind of a distraction, you know. It's a good feeling to have these people that, you know, we're out there fighting for them. You know, it's not the Iraqis we have a problem with; it's Saddam and his regime.

We moved through Baghdad. The people followed (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We decided that we were going to occupy a building for the night in Baghdad, so we went ahead and began to set up our position, set a bunker out in front of the building. The civilians seen what we were trying to do, seen what we were doing, and then, you know, gave us help. They gave us support. There was an Iraqi bunker just across the road. So the civilians, us Marines, we all moved across the road, and we began to move sandbags across the road. I myself grabbed a few other Marines. Civilians followed. And as we walked across the road, you know, I let my Marines know we're going to carry these sandbags over, and, you know, we'll be done. We just need to hurry up and set this up. It was getting late.

As we were doing this and as I was briefing my Marines as to what was going on, the civilians noticed one man running up on us. The individual was strapped with explosives. The Iraqi civilians knew this, and they tried to warn us. They were able to pull a number of individuals out of the way. They had warned enough people, but me and my fellow three Marines that were injured had no idea he was there, had no idea he was coming up.

He got within just a few feet of us and detonated himself. All four of us were Medivaced shortly after.

The Marines, the Navy Corpsmen, there were no hesitation to come to our aid. The civilians, they helped us out. They saved a number of individuals from getting hurt as we did.

You know, I'm sitting here today and I'm proud to have served my country, and I'm proud to be an American.

SPEC. PAUL STRATON, U.S. ARMY: My name is Paul Straton, Specialist Paul Straton from New York. I'm stationed at Fort Stewart. I belong to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Company 3-15, 3rd I.D. out of Fort Stewart.

On the morning of April 6, we moved into Baghdad, north of the Euphrates River. And our first mission was to clear a small, little town, and we went through the buildings, cleared it. It was an easy mission, and it went smooth.

Then, we got a second mission to go up -- a little farther up into Baghdad. As we were moving up there, we got contact. So we dismounted from the Bradleys and took cover under the first bridge. And at that time we started getting major contact, so we returned fire. And they started dropping mortars on us and RPGs.

And so we bounded back about 50 meters to the second bridge. And as soon as we laid down, they hit mortars on our position again. The second mortar or RPG, I'm not sure which one it was, came in and landed about 10 feet in front of me.

I heard the whistle coming over my head, so I turned to my left and yelled to our machine gunner to keep his head down. The whistle came in, the explosion went off, and me and him both flew in the air.

I didn't know I was hit at first, so I heard him screaming, so I got up to go help him. I reached down to grab my weapon, and my left hand, I couldn't move my left hand. It took shrapnel in between my fingers and went into the center of my hand and out the top of my hand. That -- that's about all I got. But I'd like to say that the nurses at this hospital have been great. They're like a mother away from home. I can't ask for any better service. I'm proud to wear the uniform. It's a great honor to fight for my country.

PFC. MICHAEL MEYER, U.S. MARINE CORPS: Afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, my name is PFC. Michael Wayne Meyer from a small town outside of Austin called Elgin, Texas. I'm with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, which is stationed at Camp Pendleton, California.

Basically what happened to me was I was -- pretty much the whole right flank of an ambush was pretty much directed towards me. What was happening is our company, Indi Company (ph), was taking -- was taking fire -- was in a firefight. And my platoon, 3rd Platoon, was in a -- was in the reserve. And usually if we're the reserve platoon, we don't have much to worry about, the Iraqis have either given up or run away by the time they even need the reserves.

So we're calmly waiting in the -- in the armored personnel vehicle, the Amtrak (ph), when we heard the call to get the reserves up there. So we unloaded. And as we were unloading and running to get behind this big berm, which was a part of an irrigation ditch, we were taking sniper fire. And as we were behind the ditch, we could see the enemy out in the field behind bunkers and bushes and other such things.

Well, while we were behind the berm, the field was constantly getting struck by artillery and Cobra helicopters were flying over and pretty much destroying everything that moved. After a good 15, 20 minutes of artillery and Cobra fire, they sent in our -- my platoon, 3rd platoon, to clear the field.

And my squad, which consisted of about 15, 16 Marines, covered a good 350 yards of this field. Some were spread out walking side by side through the field. And I was on the very, very right side of the whole squad. So I was -- anything to the right of me was either land or something else. And as we were walking through the field, we were constantly getting fire from the front. And every once in a while when we'd get fire, we'd get down in the prone (ph) and they'd clear that objective and we'd move on.

For some reason I wasn't too afraid or too scared. I was mainly worried about doing my job and keeping my sectors of firing. As I was walking, I walked up on about two or three enemy soldiers that were hiding, completely camouflaged behind a bush. I didn't -- I had no clue they were there. They were about five feet from me. The only thing that gave them away was them raising their weapon and clicking their weapon off of safe.

And as soon as I heard that, I turned to my right and tried to raise my M-16, and they had already gotten off six shots from their AK-47 assault rifle. And two shots struck me in my right arm, the other two in my left arm and the last two were into my bulletproof vest, which ended up saving my life.

And after the six shots struck me, I immediately hit the ground. And I couldn't feel either of my arms and I had blood running out of my mouth and I didn't -- I didn't know really what was going on. I knew that I was getting fired upon and that I was in the front. So I had to wait a little while for my team to get up to me.

While that was going on, I was constantly trying to crawl out of there, which I couldn't really do. I think I maybe got a couple of inches, which puts me in the whole firefight.

As my team, my fire team was laying down fire for me to -- for me to try and get out of their, the Navy corpsman named Doc Pira (ph) came and ran up there in the line of fire and grabbed me by my flack and drug me out of there and got me some cover and told me I was going to be all right and started patching me up. And that's when the rest of my fire team ran through there and got those guys.

And after they patched me up and gave me IV and told me I was going to be all right, they took me on a helicopter, got me to a MASH and everything was good from there.

I'd just like to thank Doc Pira for he probably had a big part of saving my life and dragging me out of that fight. And thank my fire team. Thank all the nurses here at this hospital. They've been awesome. And just like to say hi to the Army and Marine guys in the 7 Bravo, and that's about it. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well you've heard their stories, we'd like to answer any question you might have.

QUESTION: I'd like to ask Private Meyer, like a cat, private, do you think you have nine lives?

MEYER: I guess so. Somebody had to have been looking for me, because a number of things saved my life that day, the bulletproof vest, the corpsman, my fire team, so -- the guy that couldn't shoot five feet away eight shots couldn't get me. So just all of those I would like to thank God.

QUESTION: Mark Lander with the "New York Times." Actually, a question for any of you who wants to answer this. Given that, in particular, the guys who were injured on April 10 was a time in the war when the perception was already that a lot of the really major organized resistance had sort of melted away and it was more sporadic. What was the guidance you were getting from your commanders? Were you told to expect organized, unified massive resistance or were you already assuming it was going to take a more, you know, sporadic kind of structure, pocket of resistance here, pocket there?

CAPT. SHAWN BASCO, U.S. MARINE CORPS: We actually saw specifically on the guidance that we received from above was yes to both. We were receiving information that they were going to provide a last stand, if you will, around Baghdad, as well as Tikrit. Baghdad being the first objective, we saw both the formations of infantry as well as the haphazard running of infantry that lacked the ability to fire, maneuver and communicate in a cohesive manner. Soon they broke down to where they had no formations at all and that was 100 percent expected. CPL. DAVID MCCALLEN, U.S. MARINE CORPS: And the captain was in a different area than I was in. The area we was in we was told that it was going to be sporadic. Most of their military already dropped their uniforms. We found uniforms laying all around the city. You know they was giving up, you know they went to civilians clothes. You know they was hiding in buildings and there was no, you know, forces. It was just, you know, small like, you know, individuals here and there. You know, just sporadic fires, it was nothing organized.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jim.

QUESTION: Jim Rica (ph) with Reuters Television. Corporal McCallen, you had mentioned about the distraction that those civilians caused. While being helpful, it still kind of confused the situation. Do you see that as more of a hindrance and is there concern over those civilians always being genuine? You know one time they may be welcoming you, but then someone may walk up and be packed with explosives. How do you deal with that?

MCCALLEN: Our fight is not with the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people in general are genuine. They're good people. Our fight is with Saddam's regime. The thing is that you know they're -- they have genuine, you know, feelings. You know they are good people and they want to talk to the Marines. They're -- or the military. They love the fact that we're there. They know we're there to help them out.

At the same time, you've got those individuals who are resisting us, who are fighting us with our -- that our fight is with that's out there and they're dropping their uniforms. You know they're not playing as we would play. They use anything they can to hurt us. And you can't always, you know, tell who's who. So you have to watch who you're dealing with.

But the Iraqi people are good people and you know they did try to warn us. They will help you -- help us out, and they do try to tell us where we could find people. And they have given us some good information on where the enemy was located at.

QUESTION: Jeff Mason (ph) from Reuters. Can the rest of you gentlemen speak to the reaction of the -- of the Iraqi people as you were there? And then just kind of describe the conditions and what it's like right now to weather, in terms of food, in terms of morale.

MEYER: Well right the day before that the ambush raga (ph) side, we cleared a pretty big size town. I don't know what the name of the town was. But as we were going through after we pretty much got all the Iraqi army out of there, after they fled, they started coming out of their homes. And it was kind of hard because I was posting security with my M-16 outside of the armored personnel vehicle, the Amtrak. And as I was going by, I could see people poking their heads out of windows, you know, and I didn't know if they were snipers or if they were just civilians who were scared. So it was really hard to, you know, keep my cool and make sure I was doing my job and not going to, you know, shoot a civilian or anything.

And also, when we were walking through the town, I remember we had to stop, the whole patrol had to stop. So I stopped and got kind of some cover behind a wall and some, a kid and his father was walking by. And the kid looked kind of scared at me at first. And he walked right by me and I stuck out my hand to shake his hand and he came over there with this big smile and he shook my hand. And his father shook my hand. And the next thing we know, they were coming out with cigarettes and candy and other stuff to give to us. And but at the same time, I think my lieutenant, Lieutenant Heath (ph) was kind of getting mad at me because I was kind of causing a ruckus of people getting candy, you know, instead of worrying about our job.

But he was right because you never know what might happen. So, I mean there are good people that were very glad to see us.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

CAPT. SHAWN BASCO, U.S. MARINE CORPS: I would say that the attitude of the Iraqi people was on a whole, 98 percent were very enthusiastic to have us there. They were very quick to show that they were not part of the Baath Party or the regime that we were there to fight. They were there waving at us, cheering our arrival as our vehicles were pulling up.

They were very helpful to point out those that were hostile against us that were trying to hide and blend with them. They were quick to show us there were enemy positions that were poised to hit us. They were very helpful.

As far as the conditions inside of Iraq right now as it exists, I can only speak to how it existed on the 10th of April. The tide is, there is a feeling in the air, not only among the U.S. forces, but also in the Iraqi people, that things are looking better. The sun is coming out, you know? The 25 years of cloud cover of, you know torture and totalitarian regime has now ended. And it's time for everybody to come out. It's nice. It feels good to be there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anybody else? Thomas?

QUESTION: Private, I was just wondering when that, when the ambush happened or when you were actually caught behind those bushes? What day was that and where?

MEYER: I'm not exactly sure what date that was. I could only tell you that I was about 10 miles south of Baghdad when that happened. So we were pretty close. And like I said, about the weeks, the first week after I was shot and everything, I don't really remember some -- I don't remember that much, I was so cracked up and high on morphine I don't remember much so. That's a good thing, too. I mean they don't let you get in any pain around here. I like that so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Laura?

QUESTION: Laura Kempton (ph), Besco (ph).

Will you tell us a little bit more about the presidential palace? We've heard a lot of descriptions about how opulent it was where you were inside. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

BASCO: You're interested in the inside of the palace?

QUESTION: Yes.

BASCO: Yes, ma'am.

It's always good to talk to Fox News.

The palace inside was a lot less than I was expecting, to be honest with you. The palace had already endured three JDAM bombs that had gone in and done some redecorating, if you will. The, once we got in there and we started to go through it, I was actually really surprised by the lack of facilities within the palace. You know, I always envisioned that he would have the finest in technology as far as entertainment centers and stuff like that.

In actuality, in his bedroom he had a black and white television, RCA. The VCR that he had was, it looked like it came out of 1975. It had the, you know, the wood laminate stickers, the, you know, wood panel stickers on the side.

He had a microwave, I remember, down in his kitchen heat up stuff that if you, the kind of old rotary dial where you had to, you know, spin in how many minutes you want and then hit the big green button.

None of it was modern. As far as what he did inside the palace, it was, you know, it was decorated with a lot of gold paint and a lot of gold plastic. I was expecting like in Elvis Presley's house, you know, you'd see these faucets made of real gold. Well, Saddam Hussein's master bathroom, in fact, was made of plastic gold. Everything was plastic.

I was expecting fine Italian marble from Italy, but no, it was all plastic and veneer. Very surprising. His own bed, I was in his bedroom about 20 minutes before I got hit as we cleared the palace. And he had pink sheets made, you know, just cheap pink sheets. I'm surprised. You know, I'm not, it is humorous but that's not the intent. I was just let down by the lavishness. I was expecting more. I was expecting more.

Inside the palace, I'm sorry, inside the palace compound itself, he had a palace that was slightly smaller than his own on the right side, on the northern side, for Uday, his son, and one on the southern side for his other son, Qusay. And you could tell the character of those individuals by the way they had decorated the insides of their palaces with paintings of -- all of their paintings were of conquests, of destroying and crushing an army, throughout the house. That vies you an idea of what his mind -- what their mind sets were.

But nothing too lavish. They were absolutely destroyed. The swimming pool in the back was drained of all its water from the explosions. All the windows were blown out. The conditions outside the palace were stable, as far as I mean the buildings were still holding up. They had endured a lot of fire, both from the JDAM strikes as well as the heavy machine guns that the Iraqis were trying to fire at us continuously over the course of the seven hours. And a lot of the roofs had come down while we were there.

But overall it was less than I was expecting, if that answers your question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right here, please. (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

QUESTION: Hi, Mark Hanika (ph) with ABC News.

Private Meyer, I was wondering, you've been out of the military, you've been in the military for less than a year. Did you ever think you'd be on the front lines outside of Baghdad? And then secondly, what -- the other two injuries that you sustained, where were those and it doesn't mention...

MEYER: In answer to your first question, I remember back in boot camp we, back at around the August 12th time when I first went to the Marine Corps boot camp in Sardi (ph), San Diego, well we were, we'd get newspapers every Sunday and we'd read about how there might be a possible war with Iraq. And we were like you know, we don't even have to worry about this. You know, by the time, you know, they start this war it will be about, you know, three days it will be over with. We're never going to go to war.

So it kept on dragging on and like, you know, are we ever going to go to war?

And, well, I ended up graduating boot camp and they still haven't, they still hadn't gone to war with them. And I went to my MOS school, which is my job training school, which is a basic rifleman, and they still hadn't gone to war with them. And our instructors were like, you know, you'd better pay attention to this stuff, you know, because you're probably going to be going to war. And we're like nah, we ain't, we ain't going to go, you know? You know, just being normal 18-year-old boots in the Marine Corps.

And then we graduated SOI and we went to Camp Margarita (ph), which is at Camp Pendleton. We were in a holding company to get on a bird to fly over to Iraq. And I remember the gunner, the chief warrant officer came out there and told us, he said you all better get you alls acts together because in two weeks I've got to get you on a bird to fly over to Iraq. And that's when it hit us. We were like what, you know? What did he say?

So that's when we, I finally knew that I was coming over to Iraq. And then when we got to Kuwait, we sat, I sat around for maybe a week while my unit was there for a month. And they were telling me that they had gotten numerous different deadlines that they were going to cross the line of departure. And they were all telling me that we're probably never going to go.

And even there, I had doubts in my mind that we weren't going to go. And it wasn't till the night of -- that we crossed the line of departure that I knew that I was going to war. So -- and it's not a joking matter at all. It's no WWII, it's not Vietnam, but still people have died for their country and people have been injured. So it's no joke. It's still a war. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stefan?

QUESTION: I'm with CBS Radio.

Private Meyer, you got hit about 10 miles south of Baghdad. Are you sorry? Do you regret you never made Baghdad?

MEYER: Well, not really. I mean I don't know how to really answer that question. I guess if my guys were, you know, in tremendous firefights all the way through and were getting wounded, I'd regret getting hit and not being able to be there with them. But I don't know, I don't really, I don't really have any regrets since I got shot eight times and caught some shrapnel and stuff like that.

So, no, I don't. It's, that wasn't a big goal to me to reach Baghdad. My goal was to take my Marines to the left and the right of me and to come home alive. So that was my main goal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any other questions?

QUESTION: Just one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Miles?

QUESTION: Associated Press, by the way. I didn't say that.

Just a question on the shrapnel. Where did the shrapnel come from? You got hit by bullets and then shrapnel?

MEYER: Right. The shrapnel came from my -- there's, we have an M203, which shoots .40 millimeter grenades. And that came from my fire team, which was giving me support.

And I'll tell you what, I'll take shrapnel any day for my life, because those 40mm grenades saved my life when they were giving me cover. So I'd like to thank my fire team for shooting those over there and saving my life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

QUESTION: Have you had -- Jeff May (ph) again from Reuters. Have you had contact with your family? And what's your next move from here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go ahead.

STRATON: Yes, I contacted my family two days after I got hurt, and it's been really easy to contact my family. Like I said, the ladies at the hospital have been really great. If you need anything, they'll get it for you.

The next move from here, I'll go to Walter Reed Hospital for two more surgeries on my hand, and then I've got therapy to go through. That's it.

MEYER: I contacted my family the second day I was here. Gunner Sergeant Clark (ph) in the hospital, he works for the Marines, the liaison, came and gave me his cell phone.

He called my dad, and he said, "Mr. Meyer, I'm here with your son." And my dad was kind of worried at that point, and I got on the phone and I was like, 'Dad, I was shot about eight times, but I'm OK. I'm still kicking.' And he started laughing, and you know, it was pretty good.

QUESTION: And your next move?

MEYER: My next move is to get better, get home to drive my freshly-new painted 1974 Corvette, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Chris (ph) at (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there in Elgin, and I'll sort of jump in that thing and cruise around Austin.

MCCALLEN: I contacted my family just before I left Kuwait -- well, actually someone contacted my family before I did, so I was able to call my family up and listen to my mom crying and spazz (ph) out for about 10 minutes, you know. So I eventually calmed her down, you know, I talked to her and let her know I was all right.

But once I left Kuwait and I got back over here, I was able, you know, to let you know what happened, but she already knew. And you know, I just informed the family that, you know, I'm OK, you know, they're taking real good care of me out here.

And as for my next move, I'm not ready to move. This is like vacation out here. You know, I'm laying around in a bed, you know, and getting fed and getting taken care of, you know. Why do I want to go anywhere else?

BASCO: They handed a phone to me while I was lying on a stretcher, a satellite phone, just so I could let my family know. They were awesome. It was up from the colonel all the way back down to the Navy Corpsmen that was right there. It's part of that support that I received immediately right there at the battalion at the site of the battle, the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, they're really good about that.

My next move is to go home and see my lovely wife. That's all I really care about right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here and then Mel (ph).

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ABC. You have spoken about your medical treatment. Can you talk -- any of you -- for a moment about what emotional and psychological support you've received, and how important that is?

MEYER: It's always been an option to us if we wanted it. We could always have psychiatrists or anybody just to come in and talk to us. In my personal -- in our ward at 7 Bravo (ph), we've got kind of -- they've got it set up to where all of our beds are in a waiting room kind of type deal, and there's three Marines and three soldiers in the Army in that one room.

And we kind of encourage each other every day to get up and walk a little further, get on our crutches, and it's a really good deal. And we're always cracking jokes about the Marines Corps, cracking jokes about the Army. So we have a good time in there. It's a blast.

MCCALLEN: There was four of us injured the blast, and I was the first one up walking around. And you know, thank God, you know, our corpsman, you know, he's a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Marine. And you know what? To all of us out there, he is a Marine. He does everything we do. He finally went home yesterday. You know, he got hit pretty bad and we served together, and I'm the only one walking around.

And you know, I try so hard to take care of the Marines, because what I did and what they did, you know, it's all important to us. You know, it's just -- the worst part about all of this, you know, I'm thankful that it happened to me, because, you know, if it wasn't me, it was going to be someone else.

And I just worry about my Marines out there who came to our aid and helped us out there. It devastated them. You know, we're all one family. You know, we work as -- you know, we've worked together, sleep, eat, you know, fought amongst each other, but you know what? We're a family, and when you see someone in your family get hurt, you know, it takes a lot out of you.

And, you know, I was just concerned about those Marines. But you know what? There are several Marines in my whole family, and I know, you know, that they dealt with it, and they're pushing on and they're doing a great job, and I'm proud of all of those guys.

BASCO: I think to answer the question that I believe you're asking was with regard to the medical we're receiving around here and what they offer. And everywhere I look, you know, like for example, Specialist Duke (ph) back there, I mean, he is everywhere. They're all everywhere to help you. You know, you can -- you need for nothing. You need for no comfort, you need for no supplies, clothes -- nothing. They take care of us 110 percent.

It's absolutely amazing. I mean, it absolutely -- I wish the rest of the world could see what we get here. It's just phenomenal. It's not a show because you guys are here. It's not a show just because we got wounded in combat and that, you know, senators and congressmen come around and walk around now. That this sort of quality is here for us. I mean, it's really not, and I hope it's not characterized as such. It's very genuine.

STRATON: I'd like to comment on that. They call us heroes. But I think, you know, they come around and get a bunch of congressmen and a bunch of four-star, three-star generals come around and say, well, you're a good hero. But honestly, I think the hero is the nurses in the hospitals. I mean, what we did is our job. We just did our job, and these ladies and these men are real heroes. I think they should be honored more than they're getting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Lieutenant Jones (ph), man, you're the best.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every one of them. Every one of them. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mark (ph), you have the last question.

QUESTION: Yes, just the last question for Captain Basco. I just was interested to get a tiny bit more detail from you about the nature of what you encountered when you went into the palace. Did you actually wind up doing -- having sort of a room-to-room contact? Or were there actually enemy inside? And how did you sort of handle that, fighting within the confines of the palace itself?

BASCO: OK, to answer that question, I'll back up prior to entering into the palace. The fighting was on two fronts at that point, and when I say two fronts, it was within a tight area. Both the neighborhood around the palace was heavily -- I guess, heavily armed with the Fedayeen, which are the terrorist group that supports, as well as the Republican Guard. That was our biggest fight.

The fight that happened to take the palace was quite insignificant. That was just a matter of a few people that, you know, were just in there, got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. You know, they were I would say less than a formidable force. They had no maneuver capability, very limited fire capability and absolutely no communications capability.

The real fighting was really in the neighborhood that surrounded the palace. Directly across the street from the palace was a shopping center, apartment buildings. And that's where the casualties were taken, that's where the volume of our firepower went.

This whole palace was an area of about I would say almost a little over a square mile, and we owned that in about 20 minutes. But again, it took another seven hours to own the property outside the palace, but that helps you understand the character of where the battle really was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you all very, very much for being here today.

COSTELLO: All right, in case you're just joining us, you've been listening to a live press conference from Landstuhl Hospital in Germany, four wounded U.S. troops telling their stories.

In fact, we have some parents on the phone with us right now, the parents of 27-year-old Army Specialist Paul Straton.

Edward and Melissa, welcome. Thank you for joining us this morning.

MELISSA STRATON, STEPMOM: Thank you.

COSTELLO: Where are you calling from? They didn't tell me. Where are you?

EDWARD STRATON, FATHER: We're in (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

COSTELLO: Oh, in New York State.

E. STRATON: Yes.

COSTELLO: Up there. Is this the first time you've seen your son since he left?

E. STRATON: Yes, it is.

COSTELLO: Are you OK?

M. STRATON: We're just kind of falling apart a little bit. It's such a relief to see him. He looks good. He looks healthy.

COSTELLO: Yes, he does. He didn't say too much about his wounds, but he took some shrapnel in his hand. Have you been able to talk to him about his injuries?

E. STRATON: Yes, we did. His injury, the extent was the left hand, the left wrist.

M. STRATON: They told us it was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) nerve damage and tendon damage, that he can't feel his fingers. He remains calm on the exterior. One of his nurses was very gracious to send us a picture that she had taken with his permission, and let us know that, you know, he's doing good. And that was a relief seeing him.

COSTELLO: I can only imagine. Did you know he was going to do this live press conference? Did you know he was going to be on television this morning?

E. STRATON: No, we didn't.

COSTELLO: So, how did you come to watch it?

E. STRATON: My sister works the night shift, and she gave us a call at about 5:30 this morning, and was telling us that Paul...

M. STRATON: And, boy, we flipped through all of the TV stations trying to find him.

COSTELLO: And when you stumbled across him -- you know, I can just imagine your feelings, because I hear the emotion in both of your voices.

E. STRATON: Yes.

M. STRATON: It's such a relief. It's the next thing best to being able to have him in our arms. His sisters are anxiously waiting to see him.

COSTELLO: I can only imagine. When he was telling his story of hiding under that bridge over the Euphrates, and then taking fire, did your heart just stop?

M. STRATON: Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to hear that. We just caught probably the last five minutes of the interviews that they were doing. But when he told us his side of what happened, it was just so -- that was heart-stopping hearing him say, you know, the next thing I know I'm flying through the air and my body gets slammed to the ground. It's just -- you know, thank God you're alive.

COSTELLO: You know, maybe you caught this. This is what he said. He said that he doesn't consider himself a hero. He actually considers the nurses and the doctors at Landstuhl Hospital heroes. He was just doing his job. Is that just part of his fine upbringing, part of his training?

M. STRATON: It's Paul through and through. He always thinks of the others before himself, and he cares.

COSTELLO: How would you guys characterize him? As a hero?

E. STRATON: Oh, yes.

M. STRATON: He's always been a hero in our hearts. He's a strong individual and a great person.

COSTELLO: Will you two travel to Washington? Because I know he said he's going to go to the Walter Reed Medical Center there.

E. STRATON: We'll be there.

M. STRATON: Most definitely.

COSTELLO: Do you know exactly when he's going to arrive in Washington?

M. STRATON: No. We're just waiting to hear from somebody to tell us something official, and you know, we're going to take it from there.

COSTELLO: OK. Well, the first thing I would be doing is calling CNN to get you a tape of this, so you can hear the entire thing, because he looked pretty good in the press conference.

Edward and Melissa Straton, thanks very much for joining us this morning on DAYBREAK.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com.




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