Marine Cpl. Michael D. Anderson Jr., 21, of Modesto withstood the bloody battle for the Iraqi town of Fallouja but was unable to survive its aftermath in violent, house-to-house combat against insurgents.
Anderson, a former member of the Marine Corps' terrorism-fighting team known as Fast Company, retired from the elite squad earlier this year to be closer to his family. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton. He left for Iraq on Sept. 11.
The decorated Marine was killed Tuesday as his squad traveled from house to house on rooftops searching for enemy combatants, said his father, Michael Anderson Sr., who spoke with Marines from his son's squad.
As they entered a house, he was immediately struck by small-arms fire and went down. Another corporal, Anderson's best friend, crawled into the house and moved Anderson to a shower stall, which they considered to be the cleanest, safest place in the building.
"Bullets were flying in every direction as a huge firefight ensued," Anderson's father said.
The corporal returned to the burning house to get Anderson and then returned a second time to retrieve his gear. Meanwhile, a medevac unit treated Anderson.
Anderson's father said Marines told him that the insurgents continued firing their weapons while their bodies were burning.
His son died about an hour and 45 minutes after being shot.
The senior Anderson, who described his son as his best friend, said they last talked on the phone Dec. 11, when his son told him that "things were getting weird."
"After the battle of Fallouja had ended, they had to stay in Fallouja to keep the town secure," the senior Anderson said. "He told me, 'I'm having real bad dreams at night. Things are starting to affect me.' I knew it was cold there, I could hear his teeth chattering. He told me they went into hostage slaughterhouses and saw women and children who were disemboweled, with their feet cut off only four or five hours before. The bodies were still warm. He said he could not get the smell of death and blood out of his clothes and out of his mind."
The senior Anderson said his son had been hit by gunfire twice before, once getting grazed by shrapnel in his neck and then getting shot in the back about a week before his death.
"Mike was very proud of what he did," his father said. "He believed in what he was doing."
Anderson received the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal from the Marine Corps. He was up for another medal for his service in Haiti last year as a member of the Fast Company team that protected the U.S. Embassy during civil unrest. He received a letter of commendation from U.S. Ambassador James Foley.
The senior Anderson said he received a box of souvenirs from his son the afternoon of their final conversation. Inside the box was a license plate from an Iraqi car, a dilapidated Iraqi flag, men's head scarves, a Russian rifle scope, an Iraqi rifle scope, a set of Russian binoculars and a leather pistol holder with Arabic writing on it, among other items.
He said the contents held meaning for both of them. His son was an amateur mechanic and car aficionado, hence the license plate, and the two hunted together when Anderson was a boy, which his father associated with the scopes and binoculars.
"We were best friends," he said. "We did everything together."