Reporter's Notebook: Waiting for D-Day

Now I know what it must have felt like to be a soldier in England in the days running up to D-Day (search).

I'm not saying a possible Marine-led ground assault on the terror hotbed of Fallujah (search) would be anything to match the scale of men, machines and casualties of Operation Overlord.

And I'm not saying it's definitely going to happen. The official word from the Marines is they will attack only if asked by the Iraq's interim government, which is still negotiating residents in Fallujah about turning over the foreign fighters in the city.

But just as D-Day was seen as a turning point in World War II, a possible attack on Fallujah is seen as a crucial battle in efforts to quell the raging insurgency in Iraq. The timing of a possible attack has been delayed, but Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (search) recently said his patience is running out.

One Marine commander was more blunt about his hopes for a peaceful resolution and more confident about how different a possible assault would be compared to April's aborted mission there.

"We're gonna whack ‘em," Brigadier-General Dennis Hejlik said.

Like the soldiers who ran mock landings at beaches in England and a myriad of other exercises over 60 years ago, the soldiers of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force I'm embedded with have spent months preparing for possible action.

They're learning how to move in a city with tanks at their sides. They're practicing how to clear houses of troublemakers and they're even learning how to change their ammo on the run, so as not to miss any chances.

"(They'll train) again and again and again," trainer and Sgt. Shane Burgward told me, "because there is nothing routine about what they will have to do."

Many Marines admitted to me that they're uncertain of how unusual … how severe … a possible fight could be — or what the casualties could be. Nonetheless, the officers here are confident the Marines can do the job. Capt.

Brian Chontosh, who commands one company here, earned the Navy Cross Medal (search) for heroism in the first part of the war. He gave me a tour of one section of the Fallujah city line where insurgents lie in wait nearby. He explained, "It's always hard when you go into combat … but I'm pretty confident … my men are strong."

The men are confident too, despite their age. Many of the Marines are in their late teens and early 20s, which isn't so different than the soldiers at Omaha Beach.

"It's going to be a walk in the park," Indiana native Lance Cpl. Clayton South confided to me with a wry grin on his face. "Just point me in the right direction and I'll shoot and kill ‘em."

But behind the bravado there are signs the Marines know what could lie in store for them if they do go into Fallujah. There are reports of insurgents laying improvised explosive devices, booby traps, digging tunnels and defenses, and arming with heavy rockets.

You can hear the slight edginess in the black humor jokes about coffins and body bags. You can sense it in the extra-long satellite phone calls back to family in the U.S. and feel it as extra body armor is distributed. Most of the Marines grumble about its weight and clumsiness but most also accept it.

What would happen if an attack were called for?

"At first I'll be nervous," admitted 23 year-old Robert Vlasaty of Yonkers, N.Y., "but then my training will kick in and I'll protect my Marines."

The majority of the Marines here want to go into Fallujah and get the job done. I spent some time with one squad at a heavily-bunkered position on the city line. In a 24-hour period, rockets, RPGs, mortars and small arms fire from insurgents were launched all around them, but no one was hurt.

The Marines, who are all outside the city line, returned more fire than they got. Tank and artillery fire — accompanied by bombs dropped from jet fighters — killed as many as four suspected insurgents.

Second Lt. Clint Alanis was commander of the post during my visit. He explained to me that while he felt his Marines were fulfilling their mission, he'd be more than happy to go into Fallujah and wipe out an enemy that has been terrorizing the people of Iraq.

"We're like a thorn in their side," Alanis, who is just 24, told me. "They think they can make us leave … but we won't."

Just like members of his grandfather's generation were called on to rise to the occasion on the shores of Normandy, Alanis and his fellow Marines could soon be called on to exhibit a similar amount of valor on a different battlefield.