June 2, 2006

By JESSE HAMILTON, Courant Staff Writer

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- In the dark, on the roof, 1st
Sgt. Ben Grainger and another Marine wrestle with
wires. They kneel in a jumble of electronics that
looks like a stereo-equipment tag sale.

dwindle, Grainger balances a couple of speakers on
a ledge and aims them west, out over Fallujah and,
as he points out, toward America.

When the system seems ready, he and the other
Marine flip it on. The sound is faint at first, a
barely audible few notes of "The Star-Spangled
Banner." A twist of a knob and the volume climbs.

The second song is the Marine Corps Hymn,
marching through its "halls of Montezuma."

The Marines keep adjusting the equipment. More
Marines show up, crouching through the open door
leading from the stairwell of the building. They lie
down or sit low on the roof, chuckling, some of
them lighting cigars.

For the latest "prayer hour" of Grainger's
makeshift religion, Americantology, the dozen
attendees know not to make themselves targets.

The night before, the session drew gunfire.

Tonight, there are a couple of shots that may just
be trigger-happy Iraqi police.

Marines lie in the warm night, listening to
patriotism-soaked songs by Toby Keith mixed
with a strange assortment of "Born in the USA" by
Bruce Springsteen, "Paradise City" by Guns N'
Roses, "Amazing Grace" on bagpipe and even Jimi
Hendrix's psychedelic guitar rendition of the
national anthem.

The speakers are pointed at the neighbors, but the
songs are really meant for the men behind them,
looking up at the stars and narrowing the
6,000-mile gap between them and home.