Injured Marine says 'I'll go back'

August 04, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

A 19-year-old U.S. Marine from Hagerstown who was burned over about 20 percent of his body in a fire in Iraq on July 1 is at home recovering, but said he intends to return to Iraq later this year.

"I'm not going to let a little fire get me down," Pfc. Kenton Shatzer said Monday.

Shatzer, a rifleman and Humvee driver, was admitted to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio on July 5 with second-degree burns on his hands, lower back and both legs.

He has a scar on his back and skin from his thighs was grafted onto his calves, he said.

Shatzer, who graduated from Heritage Academy in June 2003, spoke Monday about his last memories of Ramadi, Iraq, about 20 miles west of Fallujah.


Shatzer was burned while working to clear vegetation that was blocking the view of a road from the Marines' base.

He said he was pouring gasoline on some of the bushes near the base, "and I just remember hearing a big whoosh and I was engulfed in fire."

Shatzer recalled running from the fire and then following the instruction, "Stop, drop and roll."

He remembers very little about what happened next. His next clear memories are of being in a hospital bed in Texas.

Shatzer said he has not heard anything from his platoon and does not know any details about what happened that day.

He was flown home to Hagerstown on July 19th, which was his birthday. Shatzer said he has been relaxing and recovering since then.

He is scheduled to return to the San Antonio hospital for a re-evaluation Aug. 23 and is scheduled to meet up with his platoon at Camp Pendleton, Calif., a few days after that, he said.

Told he has a choice of whether to return to Iraq, Shatzer said if he is wanted, he will go.

"If they need me to go back out, I will go back," he said.

After all, he said, "I was kind of mad that I was dodging bullets but I got taken out by an accident."

Shatzer has described the work in Iraq as "hell" and spoke candidly about keeping an eye out for bombs. About six weeks before the fire, the Humvee in which he was riding was hit by an explosive device and he was deafened for a few hours.

Shatzer's two main duties in Iraq were driving the Humvee and participating in more than 140 urban warfare missions, he said. On those missions, Marines go door to door in neighborhoods, kicking down doors when necessary, he said.

He explained why he went from being a rifleman to a Humvee driver, responsible for dodging mines and explosive devices along the roads: "We are getting short on drivers because, well, people are dying."

Before he was sent to Iraq in March 2004, Shatzer had eight months of training, including urban warfare training, his father, Vaughn Shatzer, said.

After a story was written about his injuries, Shatzer said he was deluged with cards wishing him well.

When he returned home from Texas, he was greeted by friends and former classmates who welcomed him back with balloons, posters and signs, some of which proclaimed: "You are a champion."

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