Christopher Grant returned home to Lewiston last week after fighting on the front lines in Iraq.

LEWISTON – After weeks of waiting, first at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, then at various spots in Kuwait, Christopher Grant was ready to cross the border.

When the orders came on March 29 to “roll north” into Iraq, the 20-year-old found a seat on top of an ammunition can in the back of a truck and stared out at the the oil fields that his unit had blown up days earlier.

The field reeked of melted rubber and burnt oil. Two-hundred-foot flames shot from ruptured pipes, and the ground was dotted with piles of soot and ash.

Grant spotted at least one dead body. He was ready to see more.

“We were like, ‘All riiiiiiiight! We killed people. We did our job,” the young Marine said, hours after he dragged his duffel bag through the back door of his family’s home on Charles Street in Lewiston.

Grant pulled into his driveway at 4:30 a.m. last Saturday to find a large poster hanging from the house with “Welcome Home Chris” written across it in yellow and red, the colors of the United States Marine Corps.

He had chosen a special outfit for his return – a T-shirt that said “Operation Iraqi Freedom, Mission Accomplished 2002” with a cartoon drawing of Saddam Hussein holding an open can labeled “USMC Woop Ass!”

1st Marine Division

It had been nearly four months since Grant called his parents, Don and Laural, from Camp Lejeune to let them know that his cannon-shooting team was being shipped out.

For the next several weeks, the couple listened to their radio at home and at work, hoping to hear news about the 2nd Marine Division. That is the unit to which they thought their son had been assigned.

It wasn’t until Grant got back to North Carolina and started calling home five or six times a day that his parents learned he had been traveling with the 1st Marine Division, the first unit to cross the border and the one that reporters were constantly mentioning on the news.

Looking back, Laural Grant is glad she didn’t know that her son was one of the first Americans to enter the war.

“As if I wasn’t scared enough,” she said, sitting in her living room Saturday night with her husband and three children. “It drove me crazy. I knew I was here worrying to death, and he was over there probably having a great time.”

As his mom spoke, Grant pursed his lips and nodded his head. He couldn’t argue.

‘Wow!’

One of the stories that Grant likely will tell most frequently during his three-week stay at home is about the first time he killed someone up close.

It was a few days after his division entered Iraq. He was sitting in the truck, looking through binoculars for enemy forces.

“All of a sudden, I seen this dude with an RPG,” he said, still smiling and nodding his head. “That’s short for rocket-propelled grenade.”

After getting approval from his unit leader, Grant steered the truck’s machine gun to face the Iraqi soldier and started shooting.

“I seen the guy fall over and he didn’t get back up again,” Grant said. “I was like, ‘Wow! I did that.'”

He had no idea how many people his nine-man unit killed during its time in Iraq. They did most of their damage by firing heavy artillery shells from cannons stationed miles from their targets.

Paper-pusher

A Lewiston High School graduate who needed his parents’ signature to join the Marines because he was only 17 when he signed up, Grant had hoped that he would be the one to pull the chain to release the shells.

Instead he was put in charge of documenting each round, the numbers of the shells, how high they traveled and how far they went.

“Essentially,” he said, grinning, “I was a paper-pusher.”

A paper-pusher who occasionally had to let go of his pen and drop to the floor of the truck to dodge bullets.

Grant estimated that Iraqi soldiers shot at his unit three or four times. He only feared for his life once, he said, when he got word that a troop of soldiers was heading toward his unit with 1,000 pieces of equipment.

“That’s when I thought, ‘Oh s—. I might not make it home,'” he said.

The fear subsided as soon as he learned that the report was false.

Yellow ribbon

For Laural Grant, who woke up every morning during the war and put on a pin with a yellow ribbon and a photograph of her son, relief didn’t come until she heard the back door creak open Saturday morning.

Grant drove home from North Carolina with another soldier who lives in Massachusetts.

Knowing that the soldiers had spent weeks sleeping an average of two and a half hours a night and eating cans of beef stew, spaghetti and packaged hamburgers, Laural Grant lay in bed all night and imagined her son going at least 100 mph on the highway.

“I thought, ‘He made it through the war, now he’s going to get in a car accident,'” she said.

As she spoke, Grant smirked and nodded his head. He couldn’t argue.



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