Honor at Hellfire’s Gate: Sgt. Douglas Bascom’s final steps

Marine Corps Sergeant Douglas Edwin Bascom’s steps through life took him from Colorado to Ramadi, where he died serving, Sgt. Bascom is who we pause to remember on Memorial Day.

Oct. 26, 2004 file photo, U.S. Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, run to a building after detonating explosives to open a gate during a mission in Ramadi in Anbar province, Iraq. (AP Photo/Jim MacMillan, File - receipt on record)

WASHINGTON, May 28, 2017 – There was no predicting that the pitter-patter of a son’s first steps would lead to the trudge of boots through insurgent-infested cities.

A path taken from the peaceful surroundings of Colorado Springs, led Marine Corps Sergeant Douglas Edwin Bascom (b. June 28, 1979 – d. October 20, 2004) to Ramadi, Iraq, where he died on the ear-splitting, fire-ridden streets of an escalating war.

Sgt. Bascom, just 25 at the time of his death, is who we pause to remember on Memorial Day.

Sgt. Bascom – Image courtesy of the family

The thousands of steps Bascom took over his life were lined with family, love, accomplishment, worship, and duty. In a country not his own, Bascom’s footprints would be marked with valor.

A snowboarding enthusiast, skilled artist, Eagle Scout, and accomplished wrestler, Bascom joined the Marines in 1999, after finishing high school. He was stationed at Newport News, Va., Japan, and Camp Pendleton, Calif. during his 4-year tour. He became an expert marksman and trained in anti-terrorism security.

A young Douglas Bascom

At the end of his tour, in 2003, he was working at a bank in Oceanside, Calif., and was a member of the Marine Corps Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). Upon hearing news of the 9/11 terrorist attack, he told his mother, Debra Bascom, he was disappointed he had not been called to Iraq while serving.

July 2004, 5,600 IRR members were called to support U.S. forces in Iraq. Bascom was the first IRR volunteer to return to active-duty. He was a Platoon Sergeant with Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines (2/5), 1 Marine Expeditionary Force (1 MEF).

‘Retreat, Hell’ is his battalion’s motto, that comes from the infamous 1918 Battle of Belleau Wood, reflecting the fighting spirit of Marines and Sailors of the 2/5 ever since.

Unfortunately, ‘Hell’ is indeed where Bascom’s new steps landed him.

The 2003 U.S. led invasion of Iraq resulted in the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s cruel Ba’athist regime, the disbandment of the Iraqi Army, and the rise of an armed Sunni insurgency against a post-coalition government and US and coalition forces. Iraq was in a state of turmoil when US Marines with 1 MEF were re-deployed in March 2004 to provide stability and reconstruction operations throughout Al Anbar Province.

US Marines pushed into Iraqi cities, like Fallujah and Ramadi, to root out deadly insurgents and were greeted by unseen bullets, roadside bombs, and suicide belts.

“As soon as Sgt. Bascom joined Weapons Company, he was an integral part of our unit,” said Captain (Capt.) Patrick Rapicault, commanding officer, Weapons Company, 2/5. “He cared about his Marines, was dedicated to our corps, always led by example…”

On October 17, 2004, Bascom received a Purple Heart for injuries sustained in a firefight and returned to work the next day. Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory McFarland, a corpsman with Weapons Company, 2/5, described the morning of October 20th, 2004,

“I watched him run back and forth from the hooch (living space) to his Humvee getting ready to go out, smiling the whole time…he was smiling because he was going out the gate.”

Bascom and his team were in route on a support mission in Ramadi, when a sickening sound was heard from an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). It is unclear whether shrapnel or a sniper bullet hit Bascom, who died from the injuries he received. At Camp Hurricane Point, Iraq, the Marines and Sailors of 2nd Battalion 5th Marines solemnly gathered to pay final respects to their brother-in- arms.

”Sgt. Bascom came here as a combat replacement,” eulogized Lieutenant Colonel (Lt. Col.) Randy Newman, commanding officer, 2/5. “He was dedicated to his duties, executed them as a Marine flawlessly and paid the ultimate sacrifice because he understood his call to duty here in Iraq.”

Sgt. Bascom and Lance Cpl. Brent Hauk – photo courtesy of family

“I finally had an older brother,” related Lance Corporal (Lance Cpl.) Brent Hauk, a rifleman with 2/5 and Bascom’s driver, “He took care of me, took the blame for me, and watched out for me…not because he had to, but because he wanted to.”

According to Gunnery Sergeant (GySgt.) Kristine Scharber, a spokesperson from the Pentagon at the time, Bascom was the first IRR Marine to die in Iraq. Two weeks later, on Nov. 15, 2004, a suicide car bomb blew up Capt. Rapicault’s vehicle, killing him and two of his men.

Master Gunnery Sergeant (MGySgt.) Michael Dunlap was a Communications Chief, who built a career in about every portion of the datacom world the Marine Corps had to offer. In 2003, Dunlap had been in a non-combat role for a couple years and thought,

“These guys are out there giving 110%…the least I could do was support them in any way I can.”

So he volunteered for escort duty. A year later, a call came through from the Casualty Assistance Office.

“We’ve got a Marine coming in. He’ll be on the ground in another day or so. Are you ready?”

Dunlap explains that Dover Air Force Base is where there’s an entire team of Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers wait to receive ultimate givers like Sgt Bascom and help move them on. When these honorable warriors come off the plane, the welcoming team stands at attention and salutes at the flight line, following intricate ritual reverently. Dunlap was briefed on who Bascom was, where he was going, and his responsibilities.

All Dunlap knew was that his fellow Marine was in a vehicle that got hit by an explosive. He had never met him. It was gut-wrenching all the same.

“I work with the airlines to make sure everything is done to protocol,” said Dunlap,” that the casket is facing the correct way – the flag doesn’t get removed, and nobody disturbs the casket.”

Dunlap had to assure that honors were rendered at each stop on the way home. He was met by Honor Guard Reserve Marines at the airport in Colorado Springs, who stood watch over Bascom and conducted a full military honors burial, including a military rifle salute. An escort never leaves an honorable warrior’s side until they have reached their final destination.

“You immediately think of the family,” said Dunlap, “and you see what they are going through. You’re not going to take away the pain, but anything you can do to make their lives simpler, and let them know their loved one is being taken care of [is called for].”

As of June 29, 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Defense casualty website, there were 4,424 total deaths (including both killed in action and non-hostile) and 31,952 wounded in action (WIA) as a result of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“The Marine knows he might have to make that sacrifice, and he chooses to do so. That’s something you can’t put a price on – you can’t understand. These men and women on a daily basis sign up to do things that nobody else wants to do, knowing they are going to leave their family… and they may never see their family again. They do it for the love of their country and the love of their Marines,” said Dunlap.

After her son’s death, Debra Bascom wrote an emotional and patriotic letter to President George Bush.

“Mr. President,” she stated, “My son was proud to serve his country. He willingly accepted his recall and anxiously awaited the day when he could join his fellow Marines as they defend our world against terrorism.”

Sgt. Bascom’s father, Larry, served 26 years in the Air Force, retiring in 2006 as a Master Sergeant. “I served in one way or another in every major US conflict since the 1980’s,” he says.

As Debra Bascom kept the home fires burning, her greatest fear was that four soldiers dressed in blue would arrive at her door with news her husband was killed. It never occurred to her that it would be their son.

“The death of a loved one is difficult to get through,” said Debra. “Death changes family dynamics.  The death of a military family member brings with it an outpouring of support from the community and contact from strangers from everywhere. When Doug died, I had two teenagers at home and two kids in college.  It took a couple of years for them to manage life and for my daughters a lot of counseling to know how to deal with all the emotions that were so new to the way they dealt with and saw life.”

Danger fills the life of America’s warriors. The more danger, the more character is revealed, the more life is cherished. If only dangerous encounters could spare us from death, from stealing the smile or hug of a beloved son or daughter.

By J.D. Leipold - http://www.army.mil/-images/2008/03/19/13678/, Public Domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16569278
By J.D. Leipold – http://www.army.mil/-images/2008/03/19/13678/, Public Domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16569278

Since the 1860s, more than 400,000 people from the United States and 11 other countries have been buried on the pristine and reverent grounds of Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. National cemeteries at 147 sites across this great nation provide courageous and selfless warriors their rest from danger.

To them, a salute is given and tears of gratitude are shed for a fight well-fought and tears of sorrow for lives taken. America’s enemies will continue to experience that an American hero is not a title, but an action, and the invincible spirit of America’s warriors cannot be conquered.

Sgt. Douglas Edwin Bascom is buried at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver, Colorado. His personal Service awards include:

  • Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal
  • Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal
  • Armed Forces Reserve Medal
  • National Defense Service Medal
  • Sea Service Deployment Ribbon
  • Global War on Terrorism, Exp.
  • Purple Heart
  • Combat Action and Gold Star in lieu of a second Purple Heart
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Jeanne McKinney
Jeanne McKinney is an award-winning writer whose focus and passion is our United States active-duty military members and military news. Her in-depth stories cover people in all US service branches, including US Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and National Guard. Reporting includes first- hand accounts of combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fight against al-Qaeda and ISIS, global defense, tactical training and readiness, humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, next- generation defense technology, family survival at home, US port and border protection and illegal interdiction, women in combat, honoring the Fallen, and much more. McKinney has won nine San Diego Press Club “Excellence in Journalism Awards”, including five First Place.