With red pen and shaky hand, Marine Lance Cpl. Robert Grady of Madison, N.C., inscribed a new nickname on his battle helmet: "Lucky as Hell."

His partner, Lance Cpl. William Noland of Memphis, Tenn., also scrawled a new nickname on his camouflaged Kevlar headgear: "Lucky as Hell II."The two Marines miraculously escaped unharmed Thursday when their humvee vehicle was destroyed by an Iraqi mortar round at the beginning of the fiercest battle thus far involving the 2nd Marine Division.

"Everybody says the Iraqis are weak, but from where I was sitting they don't look that weak," said Grady, 21.

"I was totally amazed we weren't killed," Noland, 25, said. "It was a scary thing."

The two Marines were in a light armored infantry convoy running reconnaissance five miles north of a Saudi defensive berm when the Iraqis began raining mortar shells on them.

"The Iraqis aren't very accurate. It was a lucky shot (that hit us), but it was a good shot," said Grady, who was riding shotgun while Noland drove the vehicle. "We saw mortar rounds exploding in front of us, one, two, three.

"The fourth round nailed the Hummer in the rear. There was a loud boom, and we were thrown up against the windshield. Then we shoved out and were running for cover."

The mortar destroyed four of six Stinger anti-aircraft missiles in the back of the humvee and damaged the other two. Each of the shoulder-launched missiles carries the explosive power of a half-pound of TNT.

Neither man seemed fazed by his first taste of combat. Instead, they complained that they had not received another vehicle so they could rejoin their battalion, still locked in ferocious fighting with Iraqi forces.

And they were most upset at losing all their personal possessions when the humvee was hit.

"I lost my dental floss, a snapshot of my girlfriend and a picture of my father when he was in the Marine Corps," Grady said.