Marine hero recognized by Secretary of Defense

30 Apr 2003 | Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

"When I think of Marine heroes, I think of names like Smedley Butler, Chesty Puller, and Dan Daly," said 1st Lt. Andrew L. Fanning, the weapons platoon commander for Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines.  The Charleston, S.C. native, continued "would I consider Corporal Montemayor a hero?  You're damn right."

Corporal Michael P. Montemayor, a machine gunner with Bravo Company, 1/2 , met with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld April 30 in a ceremony held at the former presidential palace to honor heroes of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The ceremony began that afternoon with Rumsfeld touring the palace briefly and then greeting the service members being honored.

"It was a great to meet him.  He seems like a really straightforward, honest guy.  Not politician-like at all," said Montemayor. The San Jose, Ca. native, being recommended for a medal for heroic action in battle, continued "it was definitely a good experience that I will remember for a long time."

Rumsfeld shook each of the honorees' hands and asked them what they did to be given the title of 'hero.'  Once he had worked his way around the half-circle of service members, he departed to continue his tour of Baghdad. 

Later that day, Rumsfeld met with soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in a hangar at the Baghdad International Airport to speak to them about Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"You've rescued a nation, liberated a people, and ended a dictator's threat to free nations," said Rumsfeld.  "We came not to conquer or occupy, but to liberate, and now we have."

These words rang true with the crowd, and resounding applause accompanied the secretary of defense as he left the stage.

When all the ceremonies of the day were over, Cpl. Montemayor said he was glad it was through.  Large ceremonies and recognition weren't his scene, he added.

The battle-tested machine gunner did not think he deserved special recognition for doing what he did.

"I was doing my job, looking out for my Marines.  I can't say everyone would have reacted the way I did, but when it's your Marine in trouble, you do what you have to do."

Montemayor earned the title 'hero' while fighting his way through An-Nasiriyah, a town far south of Baghdad.  His unit was under heavy fire, and they had to move positions.

"We were going across a 'danger area' by twos, as we were trained to do.  I looked back to make sure my ammo man was right behind me, and I didn't see him anywhere," said Montemayor.

Upon realizing he had been separated from his Marine, Montemayor backtracked the trail they had run up, looking for any sign of him.

"I finally saw him - he had fallen into a waterway on the side of the path.  He was up to his helmet, and because of all the ammo he was carrying, he was going down quickly."

With bullets impacting around him, Montemayor called for help and together with another Marine they pulled his ammo man out of the waterway, and continued the mission.

"I didn't think of myself, I just knew I had to get him out of the water.  I tell my Marines 'My job is to get you all home,'" said Montemayor.  "That's my job as a team leader, and that is what I did."

Montemayor, despite being personally recognized by the secretary of defense, is still humble about what he did.

"Montemayor was embarrassed by all of this. He exudes a quiet confidence, and is an awesome Marine," said Fanning.  "He's not the type person to indulge in fame.  He knows what he did was right, and that is good enough for him."

Montemayor said he wants the people protesting back home to know that the story in Iraq is not of a big war; It's of small units, and what they did to free the Iraqi people.

"I'm sad to see people are against what we're doing here, but I'm fighting for their rights to say what they want about it," Montemayor said.  "I'm proud of what I'm doing here, and (I) know freeing these people is the right thing to do."