- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 1, 2003

Marine lawyer Lt. Col. John Ewers hadn't seen any combat in his 19 years in the military until he went looking for the father of an injured Iraqi boy.
Col. Ewers, 43, who spent the 1991 Gulf war stationed in Hawaii, found himself in the middle of a fierce fight March 22 as he rode in a Humvee through a British-controlled area of southern Iraq thought to have been secured.
Rocket-propelled grenades suddenly flew by Col. Ewers' Humvee. Seconds later, small-arms fire rained down.
The Humvee driver tried to break away, making several hard turns to escape. On one turn, Col. Ewers was shot in the right arm, on another, he took a bullet in the left arm. He was shot again in the foot before the Humvee escaped. Another Marine in the group was shot in the abdomen.
"It seemed like a pretty organized attack in an area where we didn't expect it," Col. Ewers said yesterday at the National Naval Medical Center where he is being treated. "At each turn, we were hit with another attack."
Col. Ewers, a Bethesda native, was among 14 Marines and one Navy corpsman who arrived at the Navy hospital over the weekend from the Army's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
Another group was expected to arrive yesterday at the hospital, which will treat many of the war's wounded Marines and sailors, said Capt. David Ferguson, the hospital's director of restorative services.
Of the 15, two were in intensive-care units, and the others were listed in a variety of conditions, Capt. Ferguson said.
Ten of the Marines were awarded Purple Hearts in a private ceremony yesterday.
Col. Ewers, Cpl. Brent Gross, 26, and Lance Cpl. Joel Norman, 20, told reporters how they were injured in the first days of the ground war. All are based at Camp Pendleton in California and belong to the 1st Marine Division.
Wearing his Purple Heart pinned to a University of Texas Longhorns T-shirt and his heavily bandaged leg propped up, Cpl. Gross described how he was leading a squadron of machine-gunners clearing bunkers in southern Iraq when he was wounded March 21.
Leaving the bunkers and returning to a road, Cpl. Gross said he ordered his squad to follow him. Three steps later, he stepped on a land mine.
The Austin, Texas, native, who has about a year of physical therapy ahead of him to heal his foot, said he was disappointed after doctors told him it may take a year for his wounds to heal.
"I've got a squadron to take care of. I promised I'd bring them all back alive and I'm not going to be there to do that," Cpl. Gross said, his blackened toes sticking out from the bandages.
Cpl. Gross' mother, Anne, cried softly in the back of the room as her son spoke. She said she found out he was injured when she saw his picture in a newspaper.
"We didn't want to believe it was him," she said.
Mrs. Gross, who flew Saturday to Maryland, said her son looked a lot better when she first saw him than she imagined he would.
Cpl. Norman, of Chicago, a rifleman with the 2nd Battalion, was checking buildings for enemy troops on the first day U.S. troops moved into Iraq. He came upon a locked door and broke a window with his rifle to get into a room beyond. Falling glass severed several tendons in one of his hands.
Col. Ewers said he expected to return sometime later this week to Camp Pendleton, while Cpl. Gross and Cpl. Norman were expected to remain at the hospital for further treatment.
The National Naval Medical Center has 900 service members stationed on the hospital ship USNS Comfort, which is in Bahrain. The hospital has called up 200 additional reservists to replace some of those sent overseas.


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