Sept. 30, 2009
By Mary Rainwater
Huntsville Item Staff Reporter
While some soldiers tend to keep their battlefield experiences private, U.S. Navy veteran Marcus Luttrell did just the opposite — writing it all down in what has become a New York Times best-selling book, “Lone Survivor.”
Luttrell, a Willis native and Sam Houston State University alumnus, spoke about his experiences as a Navy SEAL on Tuesday morning as part of the SHSU President’s Speaker Series.
“When I made it back (to the United States) I made a promise to God that I will never let the memory (of my fallen teammates) die,” Luttrell said about his reason behind the book. “I thought I would keep their memory alive by writing the book and that would be it. I didn’t know I would be giving talks like this.”
The soldiers Luttrell spoke of are the three SEALs lost during his team’s 2005 mission in Afghanistan called Operation Redwing, where the four were ambushed by a Taliban force.
While on the mission along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan to gather intelligence on a Taliban leader with ties to Osama bin Laden, Luttrell and the three fellow SEALs were discovered by three goat herders, one of them a young teen.
“We had captured them until we could determine what to do, when about 100 goats came up,” Luttrell said. “Despite what you may have heard, war is not black and white — it is very gray.
“Those goats were the biggest instrument in our decision — we decided to let them go and pushed back to our original position.”
Shortly after, a large Taliban force ambushed the team on a remote ridge and forced them to fight.
“They were coming down on our flank and were everywhere,” Luttrell said. “I took a dude out and they unleashed hell on our left side. We fought for three to five straight minutes.”
Luttrell and his team continued attempts to evade fire from the Taliban force — tumbling down a bolderous mountain, trading shots and fighting injury all the way.
It was during that time that his three teammates were killed.
“Matt was on the phone calling for help and was shot,” he said. “He got up and finished the call before crawling away to take cover.
“I can still hear him screaming my name in agony,” he said. “I cannot get that out of my head.”
Hours after Luttrell watched all three friends die and was literally blown off the mountain by a rocket-propelled grenade, a rescue helicopter carrying 16 special operation forces was shot down. All on board were killed.
“The whole night was a long night,” he said. “And as hurt as I was, I was even more thirsty. So I determined that, ‘I ain’t going down thirsty.'"
On his search for water, Luttrell stepped off a mountain, hit a tree and was shot in the back before crawling seven miles to a small waterfall.
“I got about two sips of water, when two dudes came up,” he said. “I got this sick feeling again, about this guy 15 to 20 feet away. The only English words they spoke were ‘American’ and ‘shampoo.’ ”
But the man turned out to be one of two Afghan villagers from Sabray, who took him in, cleaned up his wounds and, honoring their tribe’s custom, protected him from the Taliban at the risk of their own lives.
“They brought me water, cleaned me up and gave me clothes,” he said. “A doctor came in and bandaged me and gave me medicine for the pain.”
The Taliban soon attacked the village and captured Luttrell, hiding him from noon until about 3 a.m. the next morning.
“The villagers snatched me away and put me in a cave,” he said. “They moved me around for over four more days and then carried me up a ridge to a Marine outpost.
“I didn’t know at the time but it was the custom of the over 2,000-year-old village to protect anyone they take in, no matter the cost,” Luttrell said. “There are good people out there.”
After assisting the military in locating his team, Luttrell was eventually taken to a hospital in Germany to recover from his injuries, which included shrapnel wounds, a lacerated face, a broken nose, torn rotator cuff and three cracked vertebrae.
“The whole experience of that operation took something from me — something I needed to get back,” he said. “So after I recovered, I went back to Iraq again for a second tour.”
In the spring of 2007, Petty Officer 1st Class Luttrell retired. He was awarded the Navy Cross for combat heroism in 2006 by President George W. Bush.
During the lecture, Luttrell also outlined his experiences in becoming a Navy SEAL — from his joining the U.S. Navy in 1999 to completing SEAL training in 2002.
Before the Afghan mission in 2005, Luttrell served his first two-year stint in Iraq.
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