View Full Version : OIF II Purple Heart recipient tells her story

04-25-04, 08:53 AM
OIF II Purple Heart recipient tells her story
Submitted by: HQBn Henderson Hall
Story Identification Number: 2004423133145
Story by Cpl. Brian Buckwalter

ARLINGTON, Va.(April 23, 2004) -- As the images of war flash across the television screen, it's easy to be disassociated from its reality from the comforts of home. But walking into the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., can bring the war's hard-won truth a little closer to home.

Injured Marines, home from the war in Iraq, come to this facility to receive medical care the doctors in the field just can't provide. Each Marine has a story to tell about the experience and what brought them home. This is just one of the stories.

Wolcott, Conn. native, 23-year old Cpl. Laura Langdeau was stationed with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 775 in Johnstown, Pa., when her unit received orders to Iraq.
The reality of war was apparent to her as soon as she arrived at an air base near Fallujah.

"Actually being over there ... and seeing the desert ... is absolutely horrifying. It is so real, and you think to yourself, 'Tomorrow I could die,'" said Langdeau, an active duty Marine on Inspector/Instructor (INI) duty at the reserve squadron.

Although scared, she found comfort.

"I didn't care where I was because I knew there would be someone I could lean on if I needed it."
That person was one of her closest friends, Lance Cpl. Erica Kelly, who had arrived in Iraq a month earlier.

The day after Langdeau arrived, the two decided to go for a run on base. They took a route Kelly had taken nearly every day.

As they ran they came up to two small, destroyed buildings. Burned out vehicles and debris was everywhere. Langdeau said it was obviously Iraqi property destroyed when the base was taken over.

"We decided to use it as the turn-around point, but stayed quite a distance away in case there was live ordnance," she said.

Halfway around the building their lives permanently changed.

"Out of nowhere came three mortars," she described. "We didn't even hear them come in until right before they hit."

After the blast, "My first concern was Kelly," she said. "God forbid something happens to her, it better happen to me too ... I really treat her like a sister."

The noise from the blast had temporarily deafened both of them. Still, Langdeau yelled at Kelly to run. At first, she didn't. Instead, she yelled back.

Langdeau recalled that between the look on Kelly's face and what she could lip-read she thought she had lost her right arm.

"I looked down and couldn't see anything. I was in shock ... I tried to (whip my arm across my chest) hoping to grab onto something. I couldn't feel anything," said Langdeau. "I looked down again and my arm was flailing behind me. I managed to grab a part of it and held on ... (As I did) the bottom of it came in front of me and just hung there. It felt like my body organs blew up inside ... My vision was distorted and I was freaking out."

Kelly used Langdeau's shirt to wrap around the injured arm. As the two Marines began running away from the site of the explosion, Kelly held on to Langdeau's injured arm to help keep it together. More mortars hit behind them.

As they were running across a road they saw a humvee coming from behind and stopped it.
"The driver looked like he was having a seizure. He was freaking out because of my injury," said Langdeau.

They made it to medical where the wound was cleaned and wrapped in gauze. She was later transported to Bethesda for surgery.

Shrapnel from the mortar blast had caused an open fracture to her upper right arm. A rod with two screws was inserted to keep the bones together. Doctors also performed a skin graft to cover the four-inch wide, bone-deep hole in her arm. It is unsure whether she will ever fully recover.

Kelly, who was still having trouble with her hearing, stayed in Iraq.

Looking back at the attack, "It was so horrible," said Langdeau. It scares me every time I talk about it ... (But), I feel like my dad (who passed away last year) pulled me out. Somehow ... I think God and him made a deal."

Even though Langdeau is in the states recovering, "I want to go back to Iraq with my unit," she said. "I didn't want to leave ... I want to go back because I want to do my part as a Marine. Also, I have a lance corporal who needs me there. I feel like a jerk leaving my Marines behind. This is not what I'm supposed to be doing. I am supposed to be there with them."

Despite her situation, she remains in relatively high spirits - she says it helps her recovery process.

"I make jokes all the time. I crack on people right and left. I even crack on myself. They and I get a kick out of it, and it works."

Recently, the Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Michael Hagee presented Langdeau with the Purple Heart Medal.

"It was awesome. I was so excited because not everyone gets a Purple Heart. I was actually being acknowledged by the highest person in the Marine Corps for doing my job and being hurt in the process," she said. "I felt important."

She will be heading home soon to finish recovering and to be with her family and fiancée, who is also a Marine. Langdeau says she is unsure if she will be able to stay in the Marine Corps, but if it was up to her, she would.


Cpl. Laura Langdeau and Lance Cpl. Erica Kelly, both stationed at Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 775 in Johnstown, Pa., have their picture taken before Kelly left for Iraq. Langdeau joined her overseas a month later, but was injured by a mortar attack only a day after she arrived. Photo by: Courtesy of Cpl. Laura Langdeau