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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

On this Memorial Day weekend, we're checking in with StoryCorps and our Military Voices Initiative. It's a project honoring men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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SIMON: Today, we hear from Lance Cpl. Travis Williams, an Iraq War veteran. He is the only Marine after 9/11 to lose every other member of his 12-man squad. It happened in August 2005; Lance Cpl. Williams and his squad had been sent on a rescue mission in Barwanah.

LANCE CPL. TRAVIS WILLIAMS: That morning, we loaded into the vehicle. And I get tapped on the shoulder, and I got told that I need to bounce up to the next vehicle. I said, catch you guys on the flip side - and that was the last thing I ever said to them.

The next thing I know, I just hear the loudest explosion. And I see, that's my squad's vehicle that got hit. The bomb flipped it upside down, and it ripped it completely in half; and everything inside of it was just parts. And we've got to wait for the chopper to come recover them. So the guys from the rest of our platoon had to go out there with blankets, and cover up these body parts so dogs don't come and grab my friend's arm and have a meal. (Sighs)

When I got back into our room for the first time, it was just a mess, you know. (Swallows hard) We had to spend the next couple days just packing all their (bleep) up and mailing it home to their families; mailing their letters that they hadn't mailed, and cleaning up the dishes that they hadn't cleaned up. And there's dirty laundry. It was all I had left of my friends.

And when I got home, I knew that I would meet these guys' parents, their girlfriends, and their brothers and sisters. And it's hard because I feel guilty for being the one guy left. But I also feel a responsibility. I'd better make sure that everybody knows who these guys were, what these guys did and - you know.

I am most proud of not blowing my head off by now. It's just a whole lot easier if you're dead. But that shouldn't be your tribute to your dead friends. When they're looking down on you, they don't want you to be living in the moment that killed them. You made it. You got home. You should honor their memory by living the life that they didn't get to live.

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SIMON: Iraq War veteran Lance Cpl. Travis Williams, remembering the 11 men from his squad who were killed in Iraq on Aug. 3, 2005.

WILLIAMS: Squad leader Justin Hoffman, team leader David Kreuter, team leader Brett Wightman, team leader Aaron Reed, Lance Cpl. Eric Bernholtz, Lance Cpl. Michael Cifuentes, Lance Cpl. Edward August Schroeder, Lance Cpl. Timothy Bell, PFC Grant Fraser, Lance Cpl. Nicholas Bloem, PFC Christopher Dyer. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Grant Fraser and Christopher Dyer were incorrectly identified as privates first class. Both men were lance corporals.]

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SIMON: This interview was recorded in Missoula, Mont., as part of the Military Voices Initiative. And like all StoryCorps recordings, it is archived at the Library of Congress. You can download the podcast on npr.org.

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