View Full Version : Corpsman honored for heroism

02-09-04, 07:36 AM
Corpsman honored for heroism

Within seconds of the ambush, Michael Roberts steered his M997 ambulance toward the fighting.

Kilo Company, part of Operating Iraqi Freedom, was engaged in a heavy firefight on the right flank as Roberts reached the wounded Marine, who had been struck with shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade.

Roberts -- an American High School graduate and Navy hospital corpsman serving with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment -- helped stabilize the Marine, who had suffered a life-threatening abdominal injury.

Driving back to the medevac landing zone with the wounded Marine in his ambulance, Roberts made a horrific discovery.

Michael Vann Johnson Jr., one of the 62 corpsman under Roberts' command, lay dead by the side of the road. Johnson's vehicle had taken a direct hit from another grenade, and he had been killed instantly. It was the battalion's first battlefield death.

Still, a shaken Roberts pulled himself together and got the wounded Marine and his dead colleague back to the landing zone.

For his courage that day and numerous other "acts of personal bravery in treating wounded Marines under enemy fire," Roberts has been honored with the Navy Commendation of Valor medal.

"I cried when I read (about) it," said Roberts' mom, Betty Jo Roberts of Fremont. "The emotion there was from one end to the other. Pride and fear, that's all I can think of. Pride and fear."

Betty Jo Roberts, 63, has talked to her son many times since he returned to the United States in May 2003, but he never told her about that ambush on Iraq's Highway 1. He never told her about any of it. Still, his bravery in helping others did not surprise her, she said.

"That's so typical of Mike," she said. "It's also typical of him not to tell you."

Michael Roberts, now 36, graduated from American High in 1986 and attended community college for about two years, earning firefighter and emergency medical technician certificates.

"He wanted to be a fireman, but when he got the certificates, he went everywhere and they just weren't hiring," she said. "So next thing I knew ... he went into the Navy to get some more schooling, and it just went from there."

Fourteen years later, Michael Roberts has earned a bachelor's degree in health care management through the Navy and is working toward a master's degree in business administration.

He was promoted to the rank of chief petty officer in 2002.

Stationed at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base, he lives in Oceanside with his wife, Jessie.

He served overseas for six months. On March 26, 2003, the night after the ambush, he was called to action again when two Marines were crushed by a tractor as they slept in shallow holes in the pitch blackness off Highway 1.

"His efforts would be

notable under any circumstances," according to a Marines summary report. "But when undertaken with almost no light during a period of high stress and exhaustion at the forward edge of the battlefield, they were truly extraordinary."

As the Marines pushed north, Roberts led the forward aid station through a series of battles and skirmishes along Highway 1 near Diwaniyah, An Numaniyah, Al Aziziah and southeast Baghdad.

At Al Aziziah on April 3, 2003, the corpsmen strug- gled to deal with a deluge of more than 20 wounded Marines, enemy prisoners of war and civilians, while the battle swirled around them.

"Despite the high degree of chaos and surrounding gunfire, Roberts steadfastly kept the corpsmen of the aid station focused on the difficult task at hand, with excellent results," according to the report.

Betty Jo Roberts cried when she read those words, just as she cried nonstop when the war began. This time, there is pride along with the fear. Still, it is tempered with nervousness.

"I'm delighted he's back home, and I hope he stays here," she said. "I'm on pins and needles, though, 'cause like everyone else, he's on call. The way things are going, they might send him back."