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From left to right: Gunnery Sgt. Aaron Kenefick, 1st Lt. Michael Johnson, Cpl. Dakota Meyer and Navy Corpsman 3rd Class James Layton. (Photo by Brent Layton)

Heroism in ambush may yield top valor awards

By Dan Lamothe –  Staff writer for Marine Corps Times

With no air or artillery support, the Marines of Embedded Training Team 2-8 were trapped deep in a kill zone in eastern Afghanistan. Their radios worked only sporadically, and dozens of insurgents fired on them repeatedly from three sides.

“We’re surrounded!” Gunnery Sgt. Edwin Johnson yelled into his radio in the early-morning hours of Sept. 8, 2009. “They’re moving in on us!”

At least twice, a two-man team attempted to rescue their buddies, using an armored vehicle mounted with a .50-caliber machine gun to fight their way toward them. They were forced back each time by a hail of bullets, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. An enemy bullet hit the vehicle’s gun turret, piercing then-Cpl. Dakota Meyer’s elbow with shrapnel. He shook it off, refusing to tell the staff sergeant with him because he didn’t want to make the situation worse, according to U.S. Army documents outlining a military investigation of the ambush.

What he did next will live on in Marine Corps lore — and, some say, should earn him consideration for the Medal of Honor.

After helicopter pilots called on to respond said fighting was too fierce for them to land, Meyer, then 21, charged into the kill zone on foot to find his friends. Under heavy fire, he reached a trench where the pilots had spotted the Marines, by then considered missing.

He found Johnson, 31; Staff Sgt. Aaron Kenefick, 30; 1st Lt. Michael Johnson, 25; Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class James Layton, 22; and an Afghan soldier they were training — all dead and bloody from gunshot wounds. They were spread out in the ditch, their weapons and radios stolen.

“I checked them all for a pulse. There [sic] bodies were already stiff,” Meyer said in a sworn statement he was asked to provide military investigators. “I found SSgt Kenefick face down in the trench w/ his GPS in his hand. His face appeared as if he was screaming. He had been shot in the head.”

Rather than give up, Meyer, of Greensburg, Ky., fought to bring his buddies back home. Bleeding from his shrapnel wound and still under fire, he carried their bodies back to a Humvee with the help of Afghan troops, and escorted them to nearby Forward Operating Base Joyce, about a mile to the northeast of Ganjgal…”

To read the entire story of this heroic Kentuckian click here.

What I found most noteworthy about this story is how Cpl. Meyer refuses to read the media coverage of what he did. “The main thing that we need to get from that day,” he is quoted as saying, “is that those guys died heroes, and they are greatly missed. This isn’t about me. If anything comes out of it for me, it’s for those guys.”

This is a true sign of a hero:  a person who does not realize the grandeur of the deed he has accomplished. I happened to stumble across this article while driving through Kentucky in the Louisville Courier Journal, which carried the story. It obviously gives me no small amount of pride that a fellow Kentuckian could accomplish such a magnificent deed.

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Glenn Hockton wearing the rosary which helped save his life in Afghanistan

but I could not pass this story up, since it is along the same lines as the last post about the Catholic Marine.There are those who might consider such religious practices as something incompatible with heroism and the military life. However, true men, see the value of prayer, even AND MOST ESPECIALLY FOR WARRIORS.

Colonel John W. Ripley, to whom this blog is dedicated, screamed “Jesus, Mary, get me there,” when he saw his strength fading under the Dong Ha bridge. He did so because he saw the value of calling upon God (for Whom it is child’s play to create universes) in his hour of need. Colonel Ripley received the Navy Cross for his heroic efforts but readily admitted it would not have been possible without Divine Assistance and was not ashamed to say so in public.

This story is about a British Soldier named Glenn Hockton, who likewise attributes his survival, after two near death experiences in war, to the fact that he carries the rosary. On one occasion he was shot in the chest and his parents still have the bullet which lodged in his body armor. More recently his mother described how he felt like he had been slapped on the back. When his rosary fell to the ground, he reached down to pick it up, only to realize he was standing on a land mine. The ironic thing about this story is that Glenn’s grandfather, who fought in WWII, also attributed the rosary to saving his life, when he miraculously survived an explosion that killed six members of his platoon.  If you have not done so already, read the rest of this story by clicking here.

Similar stories have been documented in the articles No Greater Love and The Ideal Soldier.

Those who wear St. Christopher's medal (shown here), do so because he is the patron Saint of safe travel.

However, this Marine had a little help, from above, and from a very good mother.

*                             *                             *

Wounded Marine from Adams County ready to return to unit

By KATHARINE HARMON

July 25–Lt. Nathan Jeffcoat, of Orrtanna, didn’t always want to be a U.S. Marine, but it’s safe to say it’s something that runs in his blood.

After being hit by an improvised explosive device, IED, in Afghanistan on June 30 and traveling back to the states, doctors went looking for him in his hospital room to do physical therapy, and the platoon commander in the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines was nowhere to be found.

Turns out, in true commander fashion, he had escaped and made his way through a quarantined hospital area to check on one of his men who had been injured two weeks before him, and was still in the hospital.

Jeffcoat knows he’s a lucky man, a lucky Marine…

Devotion to the Holy Rosary has saved many a soldier in battle.

“He’s really, really lucky,” [his mother] Sue  said, as she watched her son.

She breaks the eye contact to say she tells him all the time it’s because of the number of times she said the rosary for him, and all the prayers.

When he came back, the only things he had on him where his dog tags, watch, St. Christopher’s medallion and his rosary.

“Pray pray pray,” Sue Jeffcoat said.

That’s how they got through this, and that’s how they’ll get through it during the next tour.

To read the complete story about this tough Marine and his mother click HERE.

Excerpts from An American Knight by Norman Fulkerson about Col. Croizat:

Colonel Victor Croizat died of congestive heart failure on May 8, 2010 at his home in Santa Monica, California.

…”In 1954, Croizat was picking up the pieces of a broken Vietnam following the French defeat in the battle of Dien Bien Phu. After the partitioning of Vietnam and the implementation of Communism in the North, over 800,000 Vietnamese refugees, who did not want to live under the despotic regime, made their way south and were assisted by Croizat. His “untiring effort at first to rescue, and then to resettle the war-ravaged refugees had made him nearly a national hero in South Vietnam.”[1]

“Lieutenant Colonel Croizat would also go on to establish a South Vietnamese Marine Corps (SVMC) which would, under the direction of American advisors, develop into a serious fighting force. The relationship between the newly established SVMC and the Americans was cemented by a bond of trust. There was no hardship that the Vietnamese Marines suffered which was not also endured by their American counterparts.

“Basic to the creed was the sharing of food, danger, hardship and discomfort in the field. Wherever the Vietnamese commander hung his hammock, his American advisor hung his nearby.”[2]

“Lieutenant Colonel Croizat would go on to earn the respected title of Co-Van, Vietnamese for “trusted friend.” Out of the 6,000 American advisors in the 20 years following the formation of the Vietnamese Marines, only 600 would earn this title. ”


[1] Colonel Gerald Turley, The Easter Offensive: The Last American Advisors, Vietnam 1972 (Annapolis, Md.: US Naval Institute Press, 1995) p. 7.

[2] Donald Price, First Marine Captured in Vietnam (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007) p. 10

Written by: Norman Fulkerson

When Michael Monsoor jumped on a grenade to save the lives of three Navy Seals in September of 2006, the nation was left speechless. The Medal of Honor was presented to his grieving parents, during a White House reception, as a mournful audience looked on. There was a man in the room that day that might have seemed like just another soldier, if not for the peculiar spring in his step.

His name is William “Spanky” Gibson. He had just flown in from overseas and had a good reason for being present at the ceremony. He lost his left leg during a firefight in Iraq six months before and it was Michael Monsoor who provided cover in a rooftop overlook that contributed toward saving his life. It would be hard to find someone more worthy of that sacrifice than William Gibson. Like Petty Officer Monsoor, he is a tribute to the American soldier and his story deserves to be told.

Gunnery Seargent William “Spanky” Gibson

Idealistic Youth
William Gibson acquired the nickname “Spanky” in boot camp. Although it had nothing to do with his likeness to the roundfaced kid in “The Little Rascals” series, he does radiate much of the innocent charm of that little boy.

By the time “Spanky” was only five years old, his father, William Sr., said he knew exactly what he wanted to be in life.

“When I grow up,” he said, “I am going to be just like grandpa.”

His grandfather, Peterson Parrott, a 30-year Marine, visited his impressionable grandson on a stopover while transferring from the East to the West coast. When Spanky saw his grandfather in uniform with all his decorations, he was fascinated. During his stay, Mr. Parrott kept his medals on a high shelf out of reach of the idealistic youth but made him a promise.

“When you grow tall enough to reach those medals,” Mr. Parrott said, “You can have them.”

By the time he grew tall enough, he had already joined the Marines and was well on his way to earning his own medals for bravery.

“[A soldier is] all he ever wanted to be,” said his father.

Firefight in Ramadi

After joining the Marine Corps he earned the rank of gunnery seargent. In May of 2006, he was leading a four-man team through the streets of Ramadi, Iraq on a foot patrol. They were searching for the notorious Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in the most dangerous city on earth.

Alongside him was an Iraqi soldier; a man he helped train.

Suddenly they came under fire from a sniper in a nearby house. The Iraqi soldier was shot in the knee and incapacitated. With total disregard for his own safety, Sgt. Gibson ran to his rescue when a 30-caliber round ripped through his left knee cap, destroying the socket and severing his femoral artery.

The identical nature of the injuries, coming from a trained enemy marksman might have been an intentional plan to increase the confusion of already violent firefight. If they thought Sgt. Gibson would just lie their screaming in pain before being finished off later, they were sorely mistaken.

“Gunny” Gibson, as his men often called him, never missed a beat. Thinking that his knee had only given out, he attempted to stand before realizing the severity of his injury. Not allowing this to deter him, he simply rolled over and began returning fire. If not for the immediate assistance given to him by a SEAL corpsman, he would have bled to death on the battlefield. As he was dragged from the scene, he continued to lay down suppressive fire in spite of the pain and massive loss of blood.

“When Can I Return to Iraq?”

Sgt. Gibson was eventually flown back to the United States and waiting for him at the airport was Gen. Michael Hagee, the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Without a trace of self pity, Sgt Gibson asked the Commandant a curious question.

“What will this do to my career?”

The Commandant assured him that it would affect his career only to the degree that he allowed it to do so. This was a veritable invitation for Sgt. Gibson to fight as hard towards full rehabilitation as he fought on the streets of Ramadi. The fight began when he was encouraged to get out of the Marine Corps. Undeterred by the suggestion, William Gibson called the Commandant directly and found the support he needed to remain.

What Sgt. Gibson faced later is truly inspiring. The lower part of his left leg had been amputated overseas before he arrived at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. In spite of the seriousness of his injury, he mystified those around him with the constant inquiry: “When can I return to Iraq?” Those witnessing such determination were shocked, considering he might lose the rest of his leg. They were wondering how he would adjust to a life with a prosthetic while Sgt. Gibson was thinking about fighting a war with one.

“I would beg the surgeons every time they would come in,” he said with a smile, “to cut it off, close me up and get me out of here.”[1]

He knew that “out of here” meant one step closer to his goal of returning to combat with or without the remaining part of his left leg. The surgeons were unsuccessful. Sgt. Gibson ended up losing the rest of his leg, but he never lost his will to fight.

“It isn’t growing back” he was quoted as saying, “so let’s start recovering.”[2]

As unbelievable as this might be, Sgt. Gibsons attitude towards a long recovery was even more so.

“What is the shortest time of anyone recovering from such an injury?” his wife Chaney remembered him asking the doctors. He was told that the quickest anyone made it through rehab was thirteen months, but some were as long as eighteen to twenty four months.

“I am not doing that,” was Sgt. Gibson defiant response.

Sgt. Gibson in the Marathon.

Escape from Alcatraz
He then began an astonishing rehabilitation program. Two months after his injury he stopped taking all his medicine including that for pain so as to be clearheaded and focused. Shortly after that, he began taking his first steps on a new prosthetic leg with the help of crutches. Three months later, he participated in the Marine Corps Marathon on a hand bike, then it was on to skiing and later ice climbing.

It wasn’t long before he tackled something which even a man with two legs would hesitate attempting and that was the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon. This would turn out to be the break he needed to return to Iraq.

The Triathlon is a yearly event in which swimmers are dropped on the island in the San Francisco Bay where the famous prison is located. The first part of the Triathlon entails swimming to shore in freezing cold, shark-infested waters. Sgt. Gibson made the swim with only one leg and came in among the top ten.

When he reached the shore he was greeted by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Commanding General James Mattis.

“What can I do for you, Marine?” Gen. Mattis asked the winded but determined soldier.

“I want to be re-deployed,” said Sgt. Gibson.

“You can come with me in January,” Gen. Mattis said, “or a later flight, which would you prefer?”

Sgt. Gibson chose the first flight out and after making the trip in January of 2008 with General James Mattis, he has become the first full leg amputee ever to return to duty in a combat zone.

“I Have Just Done My Job”

Although what he has done is extraordinary, his mother says her son wouldn’t agree.

“He doesn’t feel like he has done anything special,” she says. In the face of a writer who approached the family with the idea of writing a book about Sgt. Gibson, his mother says his attitude remained the same. “Why would anyone want to read about me,” he argues, “I have just done my job?”

Perhaps the most amazing thing about William Gibson is his refusal to allow the loss of a leg to get him down. This no doubt is a character trait he inherited from his father; a Vietnam veteran who suffered a broken back in combat. When doctors told William Sr. that he would never walk again he proved them wrong. “You never say can’t,” Mr. Gibson said. “It might be difficult, but you can do it.”

The only moment of sadness for Sgt. Gibson came with the thought of having to leave the battlefield after his injury.
Chaney Gibson described her husband as someone who leads by example. “He would never put one of his Marines out there alone to get hurt,” she said. “He felt like he had to protect them.”

At the time he was wounded, Sgt. Gibson was a 35-year-old veteran Marine, fighting alongside much younger Marines who were seeing their first action. He believed strongly in leading his men in battle, not pushing them from behind. It was for this reason that he was disappointed at having to leave “his boys” alone in battle while he was evacuated.

He would go on to say that if given the chance to change anything that happened that day, he wouldn’t. “Better me,” he said, “than one of my men.”

* * *

Sgt. William “Spanky” Gibson is safely home now and while his return to battle without a leg might have earned him a place in the history books, his example has earned him a place in the heart of every patriotic American. He represents all the best our country has to offer and it is nice to know that the sniper bullet which cost him a leg, didn’t touch his honor. Bullets, after all, can be purchased but true valor is priceless.

Footnotes:

  1. http://soldiersangelsgermany.blogspot.com/2008/04/mike-monsoor-and-spanky-gibson.html
  2. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,333534,00.html

If you do not know about the Lion of Fallujah, you should. When staff writer Tony Perry went to Fallujah in 2004 to report on the war, he ended up writing a whole piece about one Marine instead. His name was Douglas Zembiec and the article was titled: Unapologetic Warrior. What Perry liked about Zembiec was how quotable he was. If you don’t have time to read the article below, you can at least relish the no nonsense manner in which this Marine responded when being interviewed:

“From day one, I’ve told [my troops] that killing is not wrong if it’s for a purpose, if it’s to keep your nation free or to protect your buddy,” he said. “One of the most noble things you can do is kill the enemy. These young Marines didn’t enlist to get money to go to college. They joined the Marines to be part of a legacy.”

What is not commonly known about this young man is that he looked to the late Col. John Ripley as a mentor. When I read more about Zembiec I noticed the striking similarities between the two men. Both displayed a ferocity on the battlefield which was almost unmatched and both were Catholics and both treated their men with respect.

“He’s everything you want in a leader: He’ll listen to you, take care of you and back you up, but when you need it, he’ll put a boot” up your behind, said Sgt. Casey Olson. “But even when he’s getting at you, he doesn’t do it so you feel belittled.”

Said Lt. Daniel Rosales: “He doesn’t ask anything of you that he doesn’t ask of himself.”

Like Col. Ripley he took time in the middle of battles to write condolence letters to the families of deceased Marines.

He also recommended individuals for combat commendations: “I’m completely in awe of their bravery,” he said. “The things I have seen them do, walking through firestorms of bullets and rocket-propelled grenades and not moving and providing cover fire for their men so they can be evacuated… ”

Zembiec was killed in action on May 10, 2007. He was 34 years old. May he rest in peace!

Col. John Ripley and his son Tom were the ones designated by Zembiec himself — should he die in combat– to deliver the message of his death to his widow Pamela.

To Read an interesting article about Zembiec, click here.