WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — The U.S. invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003, officially launching both countries into a war that would last for the next eight years.

Marine Corps veteran Gregory McDonald was part of the invasion that fateful day.

McDonald joined the Marines in July 2000. After 9/11, McDonald says he went through extensive training with multiple branches of the U.S. and foreign militaries at 29 Palms. Shortly afterward, McDonald deployed to Kuwait in January 2003.

Two months later, in the scorching heat, the first stage of the Iraq War would begin in earnest.

“We started bombing Iraq from the South, from the southern border to cross into Iraq,” McDonald said.

As a member of an artillery unit, the young lance corporal supported ground troops as they pushed their way into the country.

“We had practiced a thousand fire missions before that,” McDonald said. “We were blowing stuff that we were pretending that was there instead of that was there. You know that was the difference.”

Each day, McDonald’s unit would carefully make its way from the southern border toward the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.

“Very scary. You never know if there’s any crazy stragglers around, never know where the snipers were,” McDonald said, “we didn’t know who was against us or who was for us.”

McDonald’s unit would bomb out enemy hideouts on a regular basis. For McDonald, the devastation is just as vivid as it was almost 15 years ago.

“Scarred for life,” McDonald said. “I can still smell the smell … I can still see the bodies … nothing smells worse than human flesh burning … nothing.”

McDonald’s unit eventually reached their final destination of Tikrit, Iraq, in less than a month.

“We went north of Baghdad, and then we would turn our guns around facing toward Baghdad in case [additional troops] might have needed us again,” McDonald said.

Incredibly, McDonald survived the invasion without a scratch but almost died after contracting malaria in Diwaniyeh, Iraq. Following his deployment, McDonald would retire after serving four years in the Marines.

If you would like to nominate a veteran for our Veteran Salute, email KSN reporter Hannah Adamson at hannah.adamson@ksn.com.