Soldier survives, credits comrades
Published: May 30, 2007 | 6303rd good news item since 2003
It was May 20, 2006, and Conan Marchi was celebrating his sixth wedding anniversary the same way he had spent the last three — in a foreign country fighting in the war on terrorism.
A sergeant on his second tour of Iraq, the 26-year-old Kittery native was leading his squad through the small city of Hit, northwest of Ramadi, in search of a print shop that produced terrorist propaganda. He said he turned the corner onto a street and suddenly had the feeling something wasn’t right.
“I looked down … and felt my pelvis arch backward and stuff flowing down my back leg. A half-second later, I heard the crack and I hit the ground,” Marchi said. “I just said, ‘Oh God.'”
He immediately lost all feeling in his legs and said he was certain he was paralyzed. He looked up to see if he could get a shot at the sniper who targeted him, but there was no one in sight. As he was being pulled to cover by another soldier, Marchi said, he opened his eyes, cringing in pain, to see a long stream of blood left in his wake.
A medic rushed over and found the entrance wound was through the front in the lower-right side of Marchi’s abdomen. The medic reached around to find the exit wound and muttered, “I don’t like that.”
“Everyone who saw (the wound) said it looked like you could reach right inside of me,” Marchi said. “I immediately started to pray. I don’t think I stopped praying until they put me into a coma.”
On May 21, he awoke to find his prayers had been answered. He was alive and he was not paralyzed. Surgeons took about a foot of intestinal matter and his appendix, his pelvis was shattered, and there was severe nerve damage, but he was alive.
It had been three years since Marchi was first deployed to Iraq after re-enlisting in the U.S. Army infantry in 2002, and having his tour extended once. Finally, he got to call his folks and his wife, Hope, back home in Maine and tell them he was coming home.
“I told my dad, ‘I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is I’m coming home,'” Marchi said. “(Dad) said, ‘What’s the bad news?’ I said, ‘But I had to get shot first.”
Eighteen surgeries and months of rehabilitation later, Marchi is home for good. He originally enlisted in 1998 after high school, with the goal of fulfilling what had been a dream of his since the fifth grade — to become a soldier and serve his country. After Sept. 11, 2001, Marchi decided to re-enlist and fight for his country like he had spent his life hoping to do.
“You train with the team for so long, you might as well play a real game,” he said. “So there was a desire for that, and I re-enlisted.”
His first tour ended in May 2003, after which he was sent to Germany for more training, and in January 2006, he was sent back to Iraq. While it was difficult to be away from his family and his wife for the first tour and even more difficult after he was extended, Marchi said it was “probably the best experience of my life.”
“Camaraderie,” he said, the bond created by a group of various personalities willing themselves toward a common goal — survival.
“Those friendships you make in the military, you’ll never find anywhere else,” he said. “I’ve met some amazing people.”
Although he said he’s always had great respect for Memorial Day and what it stands for, his view of it has changed because he knows the men and women who allow him to enjoy his freedom.
“For whatever reason, there are people willing to do the hard job of keeping us free,” he said. “They sacrifice their liberty, their freedom and their lives so we can sit in the nice, air-conditioned room and talk.”
He’s been to hell and back again, then back to hell one more time and is now back home with a new outlook and a deep appreciation for life and everyone who has allowed it to continue.
“I wake up every morning. I hear the birds chirping, I step outside and just the smell of spring in the air. It’s crazy,” he said, smiling. “The leaves have never looked greener. It’s crazy. It’s crazy. I appreciate it all — every bit of it.”