Marine veteran Travis Williams doesn't try to hide the way his voice cracks when he describes the day he lost 11 teammates to a single roadside bomb in Iraq.
Williams, a former lance corporal with the Reserve unit 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, out of Columbus, Ohio, told his story this fall for StoryCorps, an organization that records and archives interviews with participants across the country. StoryCorps recently turned Williams' interview into a short animated feature, one of three made in honor of Veterans Day this year.
In the three-minute, 45-second account titled "1st Squad, 3rd Platoon," Williams describes the events of Aug. 3, 2005, and their aftermath. The 12-man team had set out on a rescue mission to find a missing Marine in Barwanah. After loading together into their tracked armored vehicle, Williams was told he needed to ride in the next vehicle in the convoy.
"I said, 'Catch you guys on the flipside," Williams said in the StoryCorps account. "And that was the last thing I ever said to them."
Shortly after he left them, Williams' team hit an improvised explosive device that ripped their vehicle apart and killed everyone inside. In all, 14 Marines were killed in the blast. Amid the grief of losing his teammates, Williams watched as Marines covered their remains with blankets in an effort to discourage prowling wild dogs.
Emotion fills Williams' voice as he describes returning to his forward base to spend days packing up his fallen teammates' gear, collecting un-mailed letters, and clearing out dirty dishes and laundry.
"It was all I had left of my friends," he said.
He also speaks of survivor's guilt and the responsibility he feels to his fellow Marines to honor them in his own life.
"I am most proud of not blowing my head off right now. It's just a whole lot easier if you're dead," he said. "But that shouldn't be your tribute to your dead friends ... you made it, you got home. You should honor their memory by living the life they didn't get to live."
Williams' account is illustrated simply, with animation by Tim Rauch and direction by the Emmy-nominated Rauch Brothers animation company, whose work has been featured in independent films and on the Cartoon Network.
After leaving the Marines in 2006, Williams now works for a knife manufacturer, Behring Made Knives, in Missoula, Montana, where he recorded his story. In a Wall Street Journal profile published last year, Williams said he tends to keep to himself and still wrestles with anger and grief over the loss of his friends.
"It's like I lost 11 family members, and I'm still trying to figure out what to make of it," he told WSJ.
Marine Corps Times has reached out to StoryCorps and to Williams to learn more about the story and animation project.