Saddam Hussein's Hulk Movie Connection

The San Mateo County Times reports that Marine Sgt. David Sutherland, one of the Marines shown on TV tearing down a statue of Saddam Hussein, has a speaking role in Hulk. Click the link to read more.
Marine who helped topple statue of Saddam Hussein back home
By Michelle Maitre - STAFF WRITER

OAKLEY - A letter written in crayon from a 7-year-old stranger tells part of the story of Marine Sgt. David Sutherland's five-month tour fighting in Iraq.

``You are my hero,'' reads the letter from the Oakley boy who identified himself as Joseph H. ``You are cool. I think that was cool when you brought down the statue.''

The letter, written on notebook paper and decorated with a U.S. flag next to a Marine in green fatigues, was delivered to Sutherland in Iraq as part of a care package from his parents.

It was written in the days following Sutherland's sudden burst into the spotlight for helping topple a statue of Saddam Hussein in downtown Baghdad.

Sutherland, 26, is back home now, visiting his parents in Oakley for the first time in years for some much-needed rest.

``It's wonderful being back home, wonderful to see my family,'' said Sutherland, who grew up in Pinole and graduated from Pinole Valley High School in 1995. ``I haven't gotten to spend good quality time with my family in two years.''

A platoon sergeant, Sutherland commanded one of the tanks that rolled into Paradise Square on April 9 on a mission to liberate the Palestine Hotel, where U.S. officials believed journalists were being held captive.

The Iraqi officials had fled by the time Sutherland's unit arrived and the journalists were free, but Sutherland instead found himself at the center of what has become one of the most memorable images from the war. Pictures of Sutherland were shown round the world as he and another Marine clambered up the massive statue's neck and fastened a chain around its neck, allowing a U.S. tank to pull it to the ground.

Jubilant Iraqis smashed the statue up and pulled its head through the streets. An Iraqi man rushed up and kissed Sutherland's cheeks.

``Getting kissed by a man is really overrated, but I appreciated the gesture,'' he said.

In the aftermath, Sutherland became an instant celebrity. He was shown on Good Morning America, and he and his parents, Jerry and Leslie Sager, were interviewed together on the Today show. Sutherland was interviewed by USA Today, Newsweek and Time, and shared drinks with foreign correspondents - ``which was kind of nice because we hadn't had any (alcohol) in weeks,'' he said.

His celebrity apparently touched Joseph H. deeply, because soon after Sutherland appeared on television, Jerry Sager answered his front door one day to find a young man and his parents on the doorstep. The boy had written a letter to Sutherland, they said, and could Sager get it to him?

The letter, when it arrived, created ``definitely a warm feeling,'' Sutherland said.

Sutherland, by the way, will soon be seen on the big screen as well. He has a small speaking part as a tank commander in the upcoming movie, ``The Hulk,'' which opens in theaters on June 20.

Sutherland will visit with his family for another week or so before returning to Twentynine Palms, where he's stationed. He arrived in the U.S. on May 30, and arrived at his parents house on Wednesday after a brief stop in Las Vegas with some friends.

``Of course, picking him up at the airport, I was a blithering idiot,'' Jerry Sager said. ``It was a good feeling, excited. First to see that he's OK.''

Later, they went out for a couple of beers. ``I got the first one,'' Sager said, ``but when everybody finds out where he's from, we didn't have to buy him anymore beers.''

The visit is also the first time Sutherland has seen his younger brother, Kevin, 23, in three years. Kevin is a Navy corpsman who was stationed in Bahrain and also returned home about a week ago.

Sutherland will soon leave active duty for the Marine Corps Reserves, but will always carry the memories of Iraq.

``The most memorable is going to be the greeting we got coming into Baghdad,'' said Sutherland, who described crowds of Iraqi citizens cheering U.S. forces as they pulled down statue.

``Plus, some of the other things we went through in combat will stick with me.''

Sutherland's unit saw a lot of combat. He ticks off the battles quickly: Basra, A doan, Baghdad and maybe a dozen more. His unit also participated in diversionary tactics to draw enemy soldiers away from the hospital where POW Jessica Lynch was kept.

Asked about media reports that the rescue of Lynch had been exaggerated, Sutherland said, ``It wouldn't surprise me. The media has sensationalized a lot of the stuff that was going on there. They would say we were in major fighting when we would consider it a minor skirmish.''

He preferred not to speak of his experiences in combat, but described the feeling.

``It's not what you expect,'' he said. ``You see on movies how guys will be cowering in combat or afraid. It's not anything like that. Being there and knowing you have to do your job to keep your other men alive is what helps you get through it. It's an adrenaline rush.''

His unit lost one soldier, Cpl. Jesus Gonzalez of Southern California, Sutherland said.

Sutherland lost 20 pounds while he was in Iraq, he figures, and tells stories of sleeping on his tank and of a two-day sandstorm that was so blinding and fierce that he had to tie a cord around his wrist and attach it to his tank just so he wouldn't get lost.

The sand was swirling so hard, he had to keep cleaning out his nose so he could breathe, he said.

It's good to be home, he said, but he's also proud of where he's been.

``I sleep well at night,'' he said. ``I know I did the right thing, that we were there for the right reasons.''

Contact Michelle Maitre at .
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