RAMADI, Iraq -- Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Michael W. Hagee visited Hurricane Point to talk to service members about current world events and do something special for a select group of Marines May 30.
The commandant awarded Purple Heart Medals to 10 Marines during an award ceremony there.
Recipients of the Purple Heart were: Cpl. Michael R. Falk, 20, a machine gunner from Okaloosa, Fla.; Cpl. Andrew J. Liming, 21, an infantryman from Clermont, Ohio; Cpl. Jonathan C. Nelson, 21, a supply clerk from Brooklyn, N.Y.; Lance Cpl. Richard T. Caseltine, 20, an assaultman from Dearborn, Ind.; Lance Cpl. Matthew J. Clarke, 20, an assaultman from Albany, N.Y.; Lance Cpl. Brian E. Faidley, 20, a TOW gunner from Somerset, Pa.; Lance Cpl. Aldrich C. Madrazo, 24, a motor transport vehicle operator from Queens, N.Y.; Lance Cpl. Jerod D. Zimmerman, 21, an infantryman from Mecklenburg, N.C.; Pfc. Boyd C. Smith II, 18, an infantryman from Cleveland, N.C.; and Pfc. James E. Wallace, 20, an infantryman from Clinton, Tenn.
“It was great. It was really an honor. … not too many people can say they had an award pinned on by the commandant,” said Wallace, a camp guard Marine with Headquarters and Service Company. “The closest thing I’ve seen of the commandant before the ceremony was a picture of him while I was at boot camp.”
The medal is a purple heart surrounded by gold with a profile of President George Washington in the center. Above the head is Washington’s shield. The back of the medal reads “For Military Merit.” The award is given to service members who have been wounded or killed in combat.
Nelson, a member of the personal security detachment for the battalion commander, recalled the day he was hit with shrapnel from a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device.
“We were escorting the governor of Al Anbar province to work, when a white and orange station wagon pulled out and attacked the governor’s convoy,” said Nelson. “The shrapnel from the blast bounced around in my turret and blew the gas tube off my M-240G machine gun. The shrapnel hit all over my hands and arms and legs.
“The blast slowed down time, and I could see the shrapnel coming towards me,” recalled Nelson.
After the blast, their convoy came under attack. PSD Marines repelled the insurgent attack, recovered the uninjured governor from his destroyed car, and assisted wounded bystanders, according to Nelson.
Wallace was wounded in a separate incident when Hurricane Point came under a complex insurgent attack. Wallace and the Marines on camp security fought back and killed one insurgent and wounded two others.
“After it was all over, I went to take a break when a Marine asked me if I was bleeding,” said Wallace, unaware of his wound at that point. “I looked at my flak and asked who bled on me. That is when I noticed a piece of metal stuck out of the back of my head.”
The metal was a piece of secondary fragmentation kicked up by enemy small-arms fire.
The battalion sergeant major, Sgt. Maj. Carl J. Gantt, coordinated the day’s award ceremony, which involved more than 150 Marines and sailors from the battalion packed inside a conference room to witness the event.
“I was so nervous – I thought they were playing with me when they told me the commandant was pinning the medals on us,” said Wallace. “I called my recruiter and told him about it. He laughed at me because he didn’t believe me.”
After the ceremony, the commandant talked to the assembled Marines to discuss current events and recognize the Camp Lejeune-based unit for its achievement since the beginning of their deployment to Iraq in March.
“We are proud of our Corps values,” said Hagee during a speech after the Purple Heart ceremony. “You do one hell of a job making tough decisions on a very tough battlefield.”
“He had some really good points. ... he answered everything, and there was no room for questions from me,” said Nelson.
The commandant also visited several other forward operating bases in Iraq, where his Marines are operating, to discuss honor, courage and commitment and how 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines is demonstrating those characteristics.