Marines 'Pretty Ecstatic' About Bin Laden's Demise

Originally published on May 2, 2011 2:22 pm

Marines in Afghanistan welcomed the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan, seeing it as a breakthrough in their mission.

NPR photographer David Gilkey, who is embedded with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment in Helmand province, tells Morning Edition co-host Renee Montagne that the Marines hope the event will offer a sense of "conclusion" for Americans.

News of bin Laden's death spread quickly — and as one Marine told Gilkey in an interview, they wanted to share the news with the Afghan public.

"The word got passed over the radio," says Sgt. Liam Dwyer, 29. "And you could tell the Marines were pretty ecstatic about it. I mean, we were, if you want to call it, holding back our emotions, being out on patrol there, but you could tell — you know, everybody kind of got uplifted at that point."

And while he also wanted to pass the news of bin Laden's death on to residents of the town he was in, Dwyer says he was careful when doing so.

"I didn't want to come across as crass and harsh like that," he says. "I wanted to get their feeling for it first."

The Afghans told him they don't like bin Laden, so Dwyer told them the news. "And a lot of them were very, very happy to hear that," he says.

U.S. civilians were also on the Marines' minds, Gilkey says.

The Marines "hoped it was a conclusion for people back home, especially the people in New York, and they also felt like it justified a lot of what they were doing over here," Gilkey says.

But the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed didn't mean their job was done, either.

"So as fast as the news came that this had happened, they also had to put their helmets on, literally, and go back out and patrol."

"I think it's a tempered sense of a bit of relief," Gilkey says of the reaction to bin Laden's death. "I think it's a tempered sense, with the reality that they still have six months left on their deployment."

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We turn now to NPR photographer David Gilkey, who's embedded with troops there in Helmand Province, to get their reaction to bin Laden's death.

And David, good morning.

DAVID GILKEY: Hey, good morning, Renee. How are you?

MONTAGNE: Pretty good, thank you. And before we talk about some of the conversations you had with Marines, remind us briefly what they're doing there in Helmand.

GILKEY: Well, I'm in Sangin, which is sort of the northern - one of the northernmost areas that the Marines are operating in. And this - it really has been one of the most notorious danger zones in the country. And so they're continuing patrols, and they're reaching out to the local population here - and business as usual.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, it's a really tough area that - or has been a really tough area there. I want to play some tape you recorded, from Sergeant Liam Dwyer. He told this story about how the news of Osama bin Laden's death came through.

Sergeant LIAM DWYER (U.S. Marine Corps): Well, the word got passed over the radio, and you could tell the Marines were pretty ecstatic about it. I mean, we're - if you want to call it holding back our emotions, being out on patrol there, but you could tell - you know, everybody kind of got uplifted at that point there.

I wanted to pass the word to the local populace, but I didn't want to come directly out - be like, oh, did you hear Osama bin Laden was killed? I didn't want to come across as crass and harsh like that. What would you say if we told you he was dead? They were like, oh, that would be really good.

I'm like, we just got word passed that he was actually killed today by American forces. And a lot of them were very, very happy to hear of that.

MONTAGNE: So he's, of course, talking about the population of Afghans being very happy to hear about the death of Osama bin Laden. Is that the same sort of reaction you're hearing from other Marines?

GILKEY: The Marines were definitely, you know, taking this as sort of something that - as they put it, they hoped it was a conclusion for, you know, people back home, especially the people in New York. And they also felt like it justified a lot of what they were doing over here.

MONTAGNE: David, thanks very much.

GILKEY: OK. Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's David Gilkey, with U.S. Marines in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

And you are listening to special coverage from NPR News. With Steve Inskeep, I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.