June 7, 2006

Courant Staff Writer  

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Only a few hours after one
Marine is sent to the hospital with grenade
shrapnel in his body, a dozen others come together
in the chow hall.

But it isn't a chow hall now. It's Navy Lt. Marc
Bishop's church, and there is plenty to pray about.

Charlie Company has been busy, as always, but
there's something new on their minds: kids with

Giessler of Walpole, Mass., was thrown by an
unseen hand. But the other day a boy tossed a
grenade at the Marines, and they have looked at
children differently since then.

They wait for the next boy cocking a heavy hand
behind him, each hoping he won't be the one forced
to decide: Shoot or hold fire?

It's a moral question to which Bishop has an
answer: Killing in self-defense is justified, no
matter how small the enemy. The harshest
judgment, he said, will be reserved for the person
who put a grenade in the child's hand.

At the morning service a dozen Marines bow their
heads over the tables on which they'll eat meatloaf
or half-warm fried chicken later. Under fluorescent
lights, the walls are decorated with little American
flags and fly strips speckled with victims.

Bishop, who makes it out to Charlie Company's
building once every two or three weeks, recites the
same Lord's Prayer as at any Catholic service,
offers the same Communion and goes through the
same rituals, but there is a special intensity to this
high-speed Mass.

This is a place where mortality is close to the

But it's also a land of the Bible - this building is
just a short walk from the biblical Euphrates River.

Bishop asks the men, "So, what do we need to be
praying about today?"

They don't say: "We need to pray that we don't
have to wage war against children." Instead, as the
Marines often do, one of them answers, "Our
families back home."

Bishop adds other prayers, too. "We pray for all
those who are advocates of peace," he says. "We
pray in a special way for our brothers who have
been injured."

Elsewhere in the building, Giessler is recovering
from the grenade blast that left seven tiny pieces of
metal in his body.

The chaplain has seen a lot, and he's prepared for
his congregation to rush from the room at any
moment, called out to respond to an attack.

In Iraq, he has held services for many or for just
one. But while he's helped Christians, Muslims,
Buddhists and Jews observe their faiths, he said
atheists seem a rarity in this foxhole.

"I haven't met one yet."