WILMINGTON, N.C. — Ilario Pantano sat in a Wilmington bookstore Friday, years after having fought on a battlefield. But then, his memoir is about contrast, about friends and enemies.
"From a young age, I saw the Marine Corps as almost a modern-day brotherhood of warriors," said Pantano.
Pantano joined the Marines and led a platoon in Iraq. In April 2004, he and his men raided an Iraqi house after receiving information about a possible hostage situation.
"At the same time, I'm searching the house and we find this family and we also find this arms cache that these men were clearly fleeing from," he said.
Panano claimed that after the two men tried to attack him, he shot them both dead.
"I didn't have a choice," he said. "I had to act, and I acted decisively to end the threat."
But then came a far different threat. One of Pantano's own men, whom he had demoted, disputed Pantano's claim of self-defense. The military charged Pantano with premeditated murder.
"Ultimately, when I was charged, it was a complete shock to see 'United States of America vs. 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano,'" he said.
Panano said that after the full facts of the incident came out, he was exonerated and honorably discharged. Now he's telling his story, in a book titled "Warlord."
"As I stand here today, now in a position once again to defend the institution that I love, I'm not bitter," he said.
But he said he feels wiser now that he has closed that chapter.
"And I guess my message to the American people is: when you're going through hell, keep going," he said.