His company, Bravo Company, traveled in AAV's -- tracked, amphibious vehicles with no armor -- packed with men, equipment and supplies. Riding in that hot, cramped space for days at a time was "the most miserable experience," Taylor said.

Part 2 in a series

By M.E. Jones

Correspondent

The Global War on Terror, launched in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, can be added to the roster of wars and conflicts the nation has been involved in since the American Revolution.

It's almost over, adding pages to the history books, fallen heroes to be remembered on Memorial Day and another generation of patriots to be honored on Veterans Day

Like the four young GWOT veterans who sat down with a reporter on a recent Sunday morning at Jean Connolly's dining room table in Pepperell. They all served in the Marine Corps and at various times were deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Now members of the local VFW, the four friends -- Bob Connolly, Adam Taylor, Kevin Hayes and Rob Leddy -- form the working core of a group of GWOT veterans and family members whose goal is to raise awareness and enough funds to pay for the monument they plan to install on a grassy plot at the town rotary.

Other active GWOT Monument group members include Bob's parents, Jean and Bob Connolly, and Kevin's dad, Kevin Hayes.

With the monument designed and a site selected, their goal going forward is fundraising.

They've formed a nonprofit organization to collect donations and have bankrolled $10,000 so far.

According to the elder Kevin Hayes, GWOT veterans' stories and the unique desert environments they served in overseas helped the artist design the monument.

These young men, however, seemed circumspect in that regard. They did not tell harrowing tales and had no battle scars, they said. Fortunately, none of them were wounded. They had no post-war grievances to air, either. They knew the dangers going in, they said, and have neither regrets nor nightmares now.

They are all strong and healthy, pursuing civilian careers and glad to be home.

But they all spoke the same language, studded with military acronyms and verbal snapshots of their war service overseas.

And they were all changed by their experience.

At 26, GWOT group Chairman Bob Connolly is the youngest of the four Marine veterans.

In many ways that a mother knows best, her son was "still a boy" when he joined the Marines, Jean Connolly said. But when he came back, "he was a man," she said, choosing the phrase that aptly described the change she saw in her son.

It's fair to say that war changed all these young men.

Adam Taylor, 35, is the oldest of the four and was the first to join the Marines.

He had graduated from college and was working as a claims adjuster for an insurance company when he signed on in 2001, right after "9/11." He's uncomfortable with the dated reference now. They all are, although the others were still in high-school then.

With a recruiting office just across the street from his workplace, Taylor said he signed up two days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and because of them. He joined the Marine Corps because it offered him "the best opportunity to fight," he said.

He was in 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines and his first deployment "in fleet" was to An Nasiriyah, Iraq.

It was primitive there then, no established bases, not even tents. "We were invading a country," Taylor said. They slept in "fighting holes" dug in the desert sand, covering themselves with ponchos during the day to deflect the relentless sun.

"It was my first experience with the meaning of surreal," he said, calling the scenes that surrounded him "cinematic," with incessant "explosions ... rounds that miss you."

There was no building going on then. "We were on the move," he said. Things got more settled after the invasion forces reached Baghdad.

His company, Bravo Company, traveled in AAV's -- tracked, amphibious vehicles with no armor -- packed with men, equipment and supplies. Riding in that hot, cramped space for days at a time was "the most miserable experience," Taylor said.

Rob Leddy agreed it was awful, having been stuffed into one of those tin cans himself. 

Taylor, however, operated a mounted machine gun on top and was more often outside the vehicle than in.

That sounded more dangerous, but he and Leddy said it was bad either way. With no armor, the top-heavy, slow-moving vehicles could be penetrated by enemy fire and were relatively easy targets.