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thedrifter
02-25-07, 06:44 AM
A battle-tested boxer

Naval Academy's smallest fighter is one of few who wear Purple Heart

By EARL KELLY, Staff Writer

As the smallest man fighting in the Naval Academy Brigade Boxing Championships this year, Midshipman 4th Class Huy Truong knew he might take a beating - but the former Marine with a Purple Heart has taken some hard hits before.

Like the time a mortar round hit him in the leg, and he lived to tell about it.

"It was the day we went out for patrol, and 2nd Platoon got ambushed. We were a quick react force, and we went out to help them," said the 22-year-old freshman, who was an infantry rifleman in Fallujah.

That was on April 26, 2004, the day a 61 mm mortar round hit him inside the upper left thigh.

"The fin on the back of the mortar cut through the gear I had on, but by the time it got to my skin, it was like a knife cut," Midshipman Truong said.

By some miracle, the mortar did not explode.

"If it had gone off, I would have been in pieces," he said with a grin.

Midshipman Truong, who stands 5 feet, 2 inches tall and weighs 119 pounds, was a squad leader with 12 Marines under him.

A corporal at the time, he said he got patched up and back into the action as fast as possible, and he never thought of using his wound as an excuse for getting out of combat.

"It was no big deal; out of 110 in my company, 78 got Purple Hearts," he said.

Oh, but it was a big deal to someone.

Midshipman Truong, it turns out, had fibbed to his parents before deploying to Iraq in February 2004. He had told them he was going to Okinawa, "so they wouldn't worry."

"There was a CNN crew right behind us, and when the mortar didn't go off, they zoomed in on my face. My mom saw me (on television) and said 'Wait a second!'"

"She flipped out and called the colonel, and he wasn't so happy," Midshipman Truong said smiling.

Midshipman Truong seems to take everything in stride, as when he came to practice late one day this week, after being called before a medical board.

Nothing was wrong with him, he said, he merely had to prove once again that the tattoo on his upper right arm wasn't visible when he was wearing a short-sleeve shirt.

He said it wasn't, so the blue-black panther with "USMC" scrolled underneath gets to stay. Mids, unlike Marines, are not allowed to display tattoos.

"I got this done in San Diego," he said of the panther.

Midshipman Truong was born in Nha Trang, Vietnam, the son of a South Vietnamese Army officer who was held as a POW for six years during the Vietnam War.

The family came to the United States about 12 years ago, and settled in Minneapolis.

Coming out of high school, Midshipman Truong was accepted at West Point, but wasn't sure he wanted to make the military a career. Instead of taking up space at a service academy, he enlisted in the Marines, just to see how he liked it.

After two years in the Corps, and another year at the Naval Academy Preparatory School, he now finds himself a midshipman.

"Absolutely," he said, when asked if he plans to make the military a career. And, of course, he "absolutely" plans to go back into the Marine Corps after graduation.

Midshipman Truong said he had a 3.2 GPA last semester, and plans to major in electrical engineering or economics.

"It is definitely not tough," he said of life at the Naval Academy. "Physically it is not tough, and mentally it is not tough, but what is tough is the school work."

A small man with a big personality, Midshipman Truong seems to have plenty of friends.

On the day he had to have his tattoo checked out, which made him late for practice, another boxer, Midshipman 4th Class Jeremiah Olver, stopped by long enough to give him grief for his tardiness.

Also a former Marine and an Iraq War vet, Midshipman Olver,is 6 feet, 1 inch tall and weighs 195 pounds. He said he likes challenges to the point of wanting to major in Arabic, one of the toughest subjects offered at the Naval Academy.

"It takes some adjustment to go from being an enlisted sergeant to a plebe - it is a big change," Midshipman Olver said. "But this is nothing compared to boot camp. If you can make it through Parris Island in the middle of summer, nothing gets to you."

Both of these war vets have decided they want to take their academy boxing careers as far as they can.

"I wouldn't say I am that good at boxing, but I do real good at slug-fests," said Midshipman Olver.

Widely respected

The man Midshipman Truong fought - and lost to - last night knew he was going to face a determined opponent.

Midshipman 4th Class Trae Miller is larger, at 125 pounds, and more experienced, having boxed in high school at the Marine Military Academy, in Harlingen, Texas. But, Midshipman Miller said earlier this week, beating Midshipman Truong wasn't going to be easy.

"It will be an entertaining fight, and him being a Marine, you know he is giving it his all," Midshipman Miller said. "He is not going to back down from me ... I would expect nothing less."

Midshipman Truong's sparing partner, Midshipman 4th Class Erich DeHart, from New Orleans, said Midshipman Truong is a leader in and out of the ring.

Midshipman DeHart, who wants to become a Marine pilot, said midshipmen who have already served in the Marines have been a good example to the others.

"He was moved into a room with some guys who were having a little trouble getting their work done, and he shaped them up," Midshipman DeHart said.

The Class of 2010 admitted 91 students who had served as enlisted personnel - 64 in the Navy, 26 in the Marine Corps and one in the Air National Guard.

Midshipman Truong is one of only three members of the Class of 2010 who gets to wear the Purple Heart on his uniform.

The tournament

This is the Naval Academy's 66th annual intramural boxing matches, where about 140 mids fought their way through elimination bouts in 10 weight classes. Called "Brigades" or "Smoker." Each fight consists of three two-minute rounds, and the tournament gives Navy boxing coach Jim McNally a chance to scout talent to represent the academy in intercollegiate matches.

Mr. McNally said he has high hopes for the Marines-turned-boxers.

He said of Midshipman Olver, a lefty with power, "He hasn't really stood out much (all year), but once the tournament started, he was against a top-rated guy, and he won. Last week, he beat one of my top guys.

"We always get a lot of prior-enlisted guys, they are attracted to boxing. But this year, it's Marines who have been in combat. Come see these guys in three years."

One of the challenges in coaching Midshipman Truong has been finding someone small enough to fight in his weight class. Since he's the only boxer in the 119-pound class this year, he will have to fight in the 125-pound class.

"It's only six pounds difference, so it's not too bad," said Midshipman Truong. "I want to go for (intercollegiate) regionals and nationals."

You get the feeling that Midshipman Truong would fight a heavyweight, if that's who was available.

"I am learning a lot boxing, and it is a great sport to keep you in shape," said the man who survived a direct mortar hit. "It puts you under stress, it pushes you into a corner - and as an officer, there will be a lot of times you are pushed into a corner."

Of course, anyone who pushes Midshipman Truong into a corner should expect some bruises.

- No Jumps-

Ellie