by JESSE HAMILTON, The Hartford Courant

FALLUJAH, Iraq --
He could be throwing a rock.

Lance Cpl. Lino Torres watched the man's short
stutter steps and the arm go back.

Why would he throw a rock at an armed convoy?
Nobody around here has been doing that.

Torres watched from his machine-gun turret in the
last Humvee of a four-vehicle convoy.

Whatever he's throwing is big.

He saw the hand come forward and something
heavy and egg-shaped emerge.

It's a grenade.

An old pineapple grenade, like in a World War II
movie, wobbled through the air. Torres aimed his
SAW gun at the man. As the grenade rose above
Fallujah's main street, Torres fired a burst of
At that moment, Torres was a machine as much as
his SAW, or Squad Automatic Weapon. He was an
automatic weapon, too, trained to act instantly.

The man collapsed as the grenade descended.
Torres fired another burst into his chest, maybe his
face, too. The man slumped to the ground.

The grenade exploded, a blast that was thought to
be a roadside bomb by the rest of the convoy,
including the guys in Torres' Humvee. They hadn't
seen, and as they all sped forward to escape the
ambush that often follows a roadside explosion,
Torres was frozen in time. He couldn't, for a
moment, tell them what had happened. He couldn't
answer their yells from below.

It was the first grenade attack on Charlie Company
in Fallujah, though it wouldn't be the last.

In his after-action report, handwritten on three
sheets of notebook paper, the Marine from
Bridgeport later tried to put it all down. "We
carried on with our mission and proceeded to
Camp Baharia," he wrote, "leaving the body of the
insurgent by the side of the road."

That night, when Torres closed his eyes, he saw
the man again, falling under gunfire. It had replaced
another image for him, the haunting memory of a
guy in his squad, Lance Cpl. Sean Barney from
New Jersey, shot through the neck. Now, as word
had come that Barney was fine back home, Torres
had this new film loop behind his eyes. Over and
over.

Torres can't put his finger on what he's feeling. It's
not remorse, exactly. The guy was trying to kill
him. But there it is, nagging at him, as if he didn't
already have plenty to think about with a new
baby son back home he hasn't met, Lino Torres Jr.

The next day, he sat with other Marines on a couch
in the entryway of their building. They made light
of what had happened, their way of talking about
such brushes with death. He said to them, almost
apologetic, "I couldn't sleep."

Another Marine on the couch told him, "You get
used to it."
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