View Full Version : Hemet Marine's leadership saved squad in Iraq

01-02-06, 12:14 PM
Silver gallantry
Hemet Marine's leadership saved squad in Iraq
11:59 PM PST on Sunday, January 1, 2006
By JOE VARGO / The Press-Enterprise

HEMET - The shooting began with an attack on a Marine Humvee carrying water to Ismael Sagredo and his fellow Marines holed up in hostile territory in the Iraqi city of Fallujah

It ended nearly 12 hours later with one member of his 15-man squad killed, five wounded and -- months later -- Sagredo receiving the Silver Star for gallantry along with a battlefield promotion from staff sergeant to gunnery sergeant.

Sagredo's Silver Star citation commends his "bold leadership, wise judgment and loyal devotion to duty" for helping rescue his seriously wounded commander, setting up a defensive perimeter and calling in a relief force that decimated the attacking insurgents. His commander says he would probably have died without Sagredo's decisive leadership.

Sitting on a couch in his home and cradling his 2-month old daughter, Isabella, the soft-spoken Sagredo dismisses any notion that his actions were heroic or even above what any of his fellow Marines would do in similar circumstances.

"I was just a fortunate individual that day," said Sagredo, 37, who has done two tours in Iraq. "A lot of us who were there have talked about that day, and we consider ourselves fortunate that we're still here."

First Lt. Christopher Ayres, Sagredo's commander, reached at his home in Houston, called the Hemet resident a hero.

"He's a great man, I love him to death," said Ayres, 35, whose injury likely will end his Marine career. "If he hadn't been there, I wouldn't be here today. I wouldn't be able to enjoy my family. I knew I could count on him."

The Silver Star is the third-highest award given for battlefield heroism. About half are awarded posthumously.

Sagredo said his unit -- 2nd Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment -- spearheaded the U.S. invasion of Fallujah following the killings and mutilation of American civilian contractors. On April 8, 2004, Marines engaged in a firefight with insurgents that left Banning Marine Lt. Joshua Palmer, 25, dead.

Sagredo knew Palmer.

"He was a good, good man," Sagredo said. "He was full of life, a go-getter. He was always trying to learn extra things to improve himself. The day he died was a hard day."

Brush with Death

As the fighting continued, Sagredo said he and fellow Marines pushed into no-man's land, taking up positions in three houses near an industrial area.

A new BMW was parked at one home, which had been abandoned by its occupants. Marines helped themselves to the eggs, green onions, rice and pita bread left behind. During lulls, a couple of Marines played with a little boy's remote-controlled car.

On the morning of April 13, Ayres asked for a fresh supply of water. The Humvee making the delivery came under fire but withdrew to friendly lines. Marines called in two armored vehicles that within minutes also came under AK-47 and rocket-propelled grenade fire. Sagredo's armored vehicle took several rocket hits, which left it engulfed in flames and spewed hot oil and hydraulic fluid on the troops.

The machine gunner died in his turret, and Ayres was seriously wounded by a blast that tore off his right hamstring. Sagredo said rifle-toting insurgents ran toward the burning vehicle, blasting numerous rounds off its metal sides.

The squad also came under fire from riflemen perched in a building several stories high.

At that moment, Sagredo said he glimpsed a house with a red door 500 feet away.

He grabbed the burning vehicle's dazed driver and got him out. Then he helped get Ayres to safety and, with another Marine, carried him toward the house where his squad was setting up a perimeter.

He took control of the unit's radio and, in a calm voice, attempted to pinpoint its exact position and situation. The radio cut out several times, leaving the transmissions garbled. By this time, advancing insurgents had breached the perimeter, and the Marines were running low on ammunition. A hand grenade landed 10 feet from Sagredo and wounded two Marines with shrapnel. Someone shot up the kitchen stove, and the hiss of escaping natural gas joined the din of automatic weapons fire and grenade explosions.

"At that point, I was very scared," Sagredo said. "I was very scared for my life and the lives of my fellow Marines."

Rescue and Remembering

Finally, four tanks arrived, joined later by fighter jets and Marine snipers, who exacted a frightful toll on the insurgents. After-battle reports indicated as many as 200 insurgents were killed.

The day's action left its mark on Sagredo and his squad.

Besides Sagredo, another man earned the Silver Star for gallantry. Two received the Bronze Star with Valor, four others got the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, and another was decorated with the Navy Commendation Medal. The squad also earned five Purple Hearts for combat wounds.

Sagredo's wife, Estela, 27, said she told him "don't be a hero" when he prepared to ship out to Iraq.

"I told him to do his job," said Estela Sagredo, who is in the Marine Reserves. "He wasn't trying to be a hero, but I'm proud that he was a hero."

Sagredo said remembrances of the firefight "pop into my head daily." He said counselors told the survivors that it's OK to discuss their fears and how they stayed alive.

"I don't look forward to thinking about it," he said. "But it's our medicine to talk about it."

Reach Joe Vargo at (951) 567-2407 or jvargo@pe.com