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Wounded U.S. troops say resistance surprised them

From right, Sgt. Charles Horgan, Army Staff Sgt. Jamie Villafane and Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Menard at news conference Thursday.
From right, Sgt. Charles Horgan, Army Staff Sgt. Jamie Villafane and Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Menard at news conference Thursday.

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LANDSTUHL, Germany (CNN) -- A U.S. Marine wounded in the Iraqi war said Thursday he was surprised by the amount of Iraqi resistance, and an Army sergeant said he thought he was going to die in the fighting.

"When it comes to going back out there ... nobody wants to go back out in that sort of thing really," said Sgt. Charles Horgan, 21, of the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment.

Horgan, Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Menard and Army Staff Sgt. Jamie Villafane talked to reporters from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

The hospital is treating 24 Americans for war wounds in intensive care and surgical units -- 15 Marines, seven soldiers and two sailors, a spokeswoman said.

The three men were wounded in fighting at bridges over the Euphrates River south of Nasiriya. The southern Iraqi city is a key center in the war because of the strategic bridges.

Encountering Iraqi troops in disguise

Horgan, a gunner, said his unit was asked last weekend to investigate groups of civilians at two bridges close to one another. As the U.S. soldiers approached, they realized the civilians were "on edge" and were moving along the river in a trench, he said.

It "didn't seem like a war," Horgan said, until the vehicle he and Villafane were in was blasted by a rocket.

"Once I heard that pop of the rocket going off, I knew I was in the middle of it," he said. Initially, his legs felt numb, and when he jumped off his vehicle, he couldn't support his weight, he said. Shrapnel had pierced his foot, and his boot was dangling at an angle, he said.

Sgt. Charles Horgan said shrapnel pierced his foot.
Sgt. Charles Horgan said shrapnel pierced his foot.

"I came out of it really lucky," Horgan added. "I thought, 'Oh my God, I'm going to die.' "

Villafane, 31, who is in the same unit as Horgan, said the Iraqis were wearing army clothes under their civilian garb. Villafane's left arm was severely wounded.

His wife, Susan Villafane, spoke to CNN via telephone from Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. She relayed her husband's account of how he sustained his injuries and the extent of them.

"When the rocket grenade hit his Humvee, it blew him out and a lot of shrapnel went into his left arm," she said. "On his forearm there is a big chunk of skin missing. They had to remove tendons and nerves to replace in his hand, and hopefully he will have the feeling and movement of his pinky and ring finger. I want to be there so bad... to touch him."

Their conversations have been wonderful, she said. "A lot of 'I love yous' and 'I miss you.' 'Give the children my love' 'I'm doing fine.' 'I'm okay.' 'Don't worry about me.' And he wants Taco Bell."

Menard, 21, of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, said the soldiers had not expected strong resistance from the Iraqi fighters.

"We were very surprised," Menard said. "They weren't rolling over the way we thought they would."

Putting family first

Asked about the Americans protesting against the war, Villafane said, "We have people out there fighting, regardless of what their feelings are."

start quoteWe were very surprised. They weren't rolling over the way we thought they would.end quote
-- U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Menard, 21, wounded in Iraq

The troops' aim is to support the United States and President Bush's policies, he said. The men said they believe the American and British fighters are doing a good job.

The three will be sent back to the United States for further treatment, and Villafane said he will be leaving the military, ending 12 years of service.

"I made a decision before this [war] started, with my family, that I was going to get out," he said. "This just kind of put the icing on the cake. I've got a wife and kids who are a little more important to me than to sit here, to try and defend my country."

When asked about the possibility of a chemical attack by the Iraqis, Menard said, "We're prepared for it. ... You just hope for the best that it doesn't happen."

On Tuesday, Marines seized a hospital in Nasiriya and captured nearly 170 Iraqi soldiers who had been staging military operations from the facility.

Ten Marines were killed in action in Nasiriya early in the battle, which started last weekend, and the Iraqis took at least five others prisoner Sunday, U.S. military authorities said.

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