- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas’ bedroom is nothing short of a shrine to the Marine whose death in an Iraqi roadside explosion preceded a firefight that now is the focus of a criminal investigation.

His dress blue uniform, complete with his ceremonial Marine Corps sword, hangs in a cherry-wood display case. His medals, including the Purple Heart awarded after his death, sit below his jacket.

On one wall is a Marine Comfort Quilt, a blanket sewn by strangers who heard of the 20-year-old’s November death in Haditha, Iraq. Opposite that is a tribute banner signed by the Marines with whom he fought — from the unit now the target of a high-profile probe into the killings of more than 20 Iraqis, including unarmed women and children, after Cpl. Terrazas was killed.

Exactly what happened that day is not clear. Cpl. Terrazas’ father, Martin, said the Marines with whom his son fought told him that after the car bomb exploded, the Marines took a defensive position around his son’s battered vehicle. Insurgents immediately started shooting from nearby buildings, and the insurgents were using women and children as human shields.

The Marines shot back because “it was going to be them or” the insurgents, Mr. Terrazas said based on what his son’s fellow Marines briefly described to him.

“It’s very hard for me. I don’t even listen to the news,” Mr. Terrazas said of reports of the mass killings.

Marine officials initially gave the same story: that 15 civilians were killed Nov. 19 in the explosion and a subsequent firefight, which also killed eight insurgents. Several months later, Time magazine and Arab television stations obtained a videotape of the scene, showing the bodies of women and children. The video, Iraqis’ accounts of the day and other emerging details sparked a criminal investigation.

Mr. Terrazas said he has met with many from his son’s unit who told him they did only what was necessary to survive. He wouldn’t say when he spoke with them.

“Those Marines just did their job,” he said. “Some of these kids were saying, ‘We have to live with it.’”

Cpl. Terrazas, a third-generation Marine, was destined to follow two uncles and a great-uncle into the Corps. He left for boot camp right after high school graduation.

But he also looked forward to leaving the military and pursuing a career in law enforcement, and was planning to attend college, said his grandfather Jorge Terrazas, an Army veteran who encouraged all of his children and grandchildren to join the military.

Martin Terrazas said the Marines from his son’s unit didn’t give him many details of the attack but assured him that Cpl. Terrazas didn’t suffer.

“They just said it wasn’t a pretty sight,” he said.

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