A Fort Campbell, Ky., Soldier who accidentally uncovered more than $55,000 in cash at the site where Iraqi terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi met his death said he never considered keeping the haul for himself.
Instead, Spc. John Larkin, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1-32 Cavalry Squadron, 101st Airborne Division, quickly turned the money over to his platoon leader. After opening the tape-bound envelope, they found Euro notes worth approximately $55,000 three days after U.S. air strikes destroyed the home where al-Zarqawi was hiding.
Larkin was accompanying Soldiers from 1-68th Combined Arms Battalion, 4th Infantry Division, Task Force Band of Brothers, who were providing security for engineers who were cleaning up in the aftermath of the blasts. He saw a bulldozer drive and turn up an object.
"As the bulldozer was moving dirt back and forth, I went to see this brick," Larkin said. "I was going to pick it up, but I found out it wasn't a brick.
"It was a wad of money, six or seven inches, wrapped in cardboard and it was all taped up."
Larkin and Pfc. Jacob Ponce, a member of 2nd Platoon, B Troop, 1-32 Cavalry Squadron, began calling for their platoon leader, 1st Lt. James Hester. The thought never occurred to him to keep the cash or split it with Ponce.
"I'm trying to be honest," Larkin said. "I want to keep my nose clean, get this tour over and go back to the states."
A Memphis, Tenn., native, Larkin is a 13-year Army veteran who repairs communication equipment. He was on the patrol as a way for Hester's platoon to thank him for fixing their gear.
"I came running over and Larkin was waving this white stack saying, "I got money,"" Hester said. "My first thought was, "I've got a lot of paperwork to do now.""
Hester said he immediately placed a guard on the envelope. It was wrapped up in white paper and sealed in tape. It had a piece of shrapnel lodged in the middle of it.
Initially, the Soldiers said they had no idea how much money they had uncovered. All they saw were the "50" digits on the Euros, which were still sealed. Euros are used as currency by nine of the 12 European Union nations.
Upon returning to their headquarters at Forward Operating Base Warhorse, they unwrapped the money and began counting it. They were then astounded.
"We cracked the seal and we started counting it," Hester said. "We just started counting it out and it was eighty-five 500 Euro notes.
"That's when it hit us how much it was."
"It was kind of weird," Larkin said. "After we counted it, inventoried it and bagged it, I was sitting there going, "Damn, that's a lot of money."
"It was more than I thought it was going to be."
Hester, a Graham, Texas, native, praised Larkin and Ponce for their honesty.
"Anybody could have just grabbed it, put in their pocket and be done with it," Hester said. "It shows quite a bit of integrity from the soldiers that I have and the kind of people they are.
"It's more money than these two combined make in a year and some change, so they could pretty much split a year's salary in about five minutes and been done with it. It shows a lot of integrity by these two Soldiers to actually fork over the cash."
Hester wasn't the only officer showing his appreciation. Larkin and Ponce, who is from El Paso, Texas, were both congratulated by Lt. Col. Thomas Fisher, who commands 1-68th Combined Arms Battalion. Fisher presented Larkin with one of his battalion's coins.
"Spc. Larkin demonstrates the highest form of character and moral character that is the epitome of the American fighting man," Fisher said. "What his action demonstrates is the exact reason why we continue to experience success here in Iraq.
"It's because of his actions that we are bringing peace and stability to a country that is trying to establish a democracy here in the Middle East."
Besides taking cash out of the terrorists" hands, the find may be used to trace the source of funding for insurgent activity, said Capt. Colin Tonsey, intelligence officer, 1-68 Combined Arms Team, 101st Airborne Division. He said most terrorist transactions are done with Iraqi and U.S. currency.
"It was likely intended to be used to finance further operations," said Capt. Colin Tonsey, intelligence officer, 1-68 Combined Arms Team, 4th Infantry Division. "(We know) that Zarqawi has been known to bring money with him through his connections with various countries and to use Euros and dollars to finance operations."
The find means that the June 7 operation resulted in not only the death of Iraq's most notorious terrorist, but also the loss in funds that would have been used against Coalition forces. The money has since been turned over to members of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team for further disposition.
"It does put a significant damper in the amount of weapons they can buy," Tonsey said. "It does prevent them from buying a large amount of ordnance they use to make improvised explosive devices."