kunc-header-1440x90.png
Our Story Happens Here
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives.

Sole Survivor: Iraq Rescue Mission Ended In Tragedy

Lance Cpl. Travis Williams' squad, front row, from left: Michael Cifuentes, Christopher Dyer, Justin Hoffman, Aaron Reed, Edward August Shroeder, Eric Bernholtz. Back row, from left: Grant Fraser, Nicholas Bloem, Timothy Bell,Brett Wightman, Travis Williams, David Kreuter.
Lance Cpl. Travis Williams' squad, front row, from left: Michael Cifuentes, Christopher Dyer, Justin Hoffman, Aaron Reed, Edward August Shroeder, Eric Bernholtz. Back row, from left: Grant Fraser, Nicholas Bloem, Timothy Bell,Brett Wightman, Travis Williams, David Kreuter.

Lance Cpl. Travis Williams, 29, is an Iraq War veteran — and the only post-9/11 Marine to lose every other member of his 12-man squad. It happened in August 2005, when Williams and his teammates were sent on a rescue mission in Barwanah, Iraq.

"That morning, we loaded into the vehicle," Williams recalls. "And I get tapped on the shoulder, and I got told that I need to bounce up to the next vehicle. I said, 'Catch you guys on the flipside.' And that was the last thing I ever said to them."

"Next thing I know, I just hear the loudest explosion. And I see, that's my squad's vehicle that got hit. The bomb flipped it upside down, it ripped it completely in half, and everything inside of it was just parts," he says.

A helicopter was sent to recover his squad's remains. "So the guys from the rest of our platoon had to go out there with blankets and cover up these body parts, so dogs don't come and grab my friend's arm and have a meal," Williams says.

Williams was attached to Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, out of Columbus, Ohio. "When I got back into our room for the first time, it was just a mess, you know. We had to spend the next couple of days just packing all this shit up, and mailing it home to their families. Mailing their letters that they hadn't mailed, and cleaning up the dishes that they hadn't cleaned up and — there's dirty laundry," Williams pauses. "It was all I had left of my friends."

He faced hard challenges once he returned home. "I knew that I would meet these guys' parents, their girlfriends and their brothers and sisters and — it's hard because I feel guilty for being the one guy left," he says. "But I also feel a responsibility. I better make sure that everybody knows who these guys were, what these guys did."

There was his own grief to deal with, too. "I am most proud of not blowing my head off by now," Williams says. "It's just a whole lot easier if you're dead. But that shouldn't be your tribute to your dead friends. When they're looking down on you, they don't want you to be living in the moment that killed them. You made it. You got home. You should honor their memory by living the life that they didn't get to live."

Audio produced forWeekend Edition Saturday by Yasmina Guerda. Special thanks to Michael M. Phillips.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: May 24, 2013 at 10:00 PM MDT
In the audio for this story, Marines Grant Fraser and Christopher Dyer were incorrectly referred to as privates first class. The correct rank for both is lance corporal.
Corrected: May 24, 2013 at 10:00 PM MDT
In the audio for this story, Marines Grant Fraser and Christopher Dyer were incorrectly referred to as privates first class. The correct rank for both is lance corporal.
Related Content