Wade Spann was in Marine boot camp in San Diego on September 11, but it was days before he learned what had happened in lower Manhattan, in a field in Shanksville, Pa., and at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va.
The young high school graduate from Burke, Va., joined the Marine Corps to get some order in his life, and some discipline. On the first morning of the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, I filmed Lance Corporal Spann and a TOW missile-equipped humvee score the first TOW missile kill of the war. It was an Iraqi BMP, an armored infantry vehicle, as it crossed in front of our platoon’s position in the Rumaila Oil Fields in southern Iraq. That was an hour before the first American, a young platoon leader in Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment, was killed by a truckload of Iraqi soldiers. They, in turn, were slaughtered by the men of Second Lt. Shane Childers.
Spann and the battalion fought its way up Highway One to Baghdad, before it was relieved by soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division. Spann, who is now 35, regrets not being able to capture Saddam Hussein, who was seen standing on the street outside the al-Hashimiyah Palace along the Tigris River, a favorite haunt of his two sons.
By the time the battalion fought its way through the streets of Baghdad on the night of April 9th, 2003, a few hours after Marines pulled down Saddam’s statue in Firdo Square, the Iraqi dictator had fled Baghdad. Saddam was captured by Army soldiers later in his hometown of Tikrit, and then put on trial and hanged for his crimes.