Female Marines Rebuilt Lives After Iraq Attack

PHOTO: Marine Oyoana Allende, second from the left in the back, with her unit in Iraq, a few weeks before the attack that killed six American troops, including three females in what was the one of the deadliest attacks on female troops in U.S. history.

Lives can change in an instant, and for one female engagement team in Iraq, it did on June 23, 2005.

That day, 14 female Marines were riding in a seven-ton truck, part of a three-vehicle convoy escorting them back to their barracks at Camp Fallujah, when a car with an Iraqi man, woman and child neared the convoy.

Instead of letting the car proceed first, as was the protocol, the convoy continued past the car. The car suddenly accelerated, ramming straight into the women's truck. The car exploded upon impact. The truck flipped in the air a few times, enveloped in flames.

Some of the women were knocked unconscious, their faces, hands, and exposed flesh burned. Two were killed instantly -- Regina Clark, and Ramona Valdez. Then the convoy came under fire -- a second ambush after the first. A Marine who ran to assist was hit by a bullet and killed.

Dazed and in shock, the women caught glimpses of each other's bloodied red and charred black faces. One woman's sunglasses had melted to her face. "Do I look like her?" they began asking one another. A third woman, Holly Charette, died a few hours later.

It was a planned suicide attack, targeting the women tasked with searching Iraqi women for bombs or weapons. The Iraqi insurgents wanted to strike the U.S. where it would hurt -- killing the female Marines would be a huge victory.

While three of the women's lives were taken that day, ABC News recently spoke to six of the women, whose lives have recovered, some of them directly shaped by that life-altering moment.

Oyoana Allende, now 28, is graduating this December with a degree in recreational therapy from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and plans to get her Master's degree in occupational therapy.

Her interest in physical therapy stems directly from the attack. She suffered burns on 14 percent of her body surface, including her face, hands, and knees.

"I didn't even know what recreational therapy was until I got injured, so that's definitely why I want to do it," Allende said.

Allende remembers the car ramming into their truck, and seeing the fire coming towards her. She felt the heat, and remembers her body flying through the air, but doesn't remember hitting the ground. She remembers waking up when she was being transferred from one truck to another one going back to Camp Fallujah.

She remembers the moment she noticed her face was burned. One of the other women was trying to reassure Allende she was going to be OK, but Allende caught her reflection in the woman's sunglasses.

"I had blood and dirt on my face...it looked like my skin hanging in certain parts of my face. I was just freaking out," she remembers. Allende spent nearly two years at the Brooke Army Medical Center in Austin, Texas.

At first, she said, she was upset with everybody -- herself, everyone who might have been able to prevent the attack, the world -- but she's learned to forgive, and help others.

Allende also volunteers at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Hospital's burn unit. She encourages burn patients during recovery.

"It helps you more when a person who went through what you're going through goes and tells you, you will get better," Allende said.

Still, Allende says sometimes she wishes she didn't have the scars that graze her nose and upper lip. Some people stare, she says. "But I've been trying to accept myself, and love myself now."

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