View Full Version : In Iraq, coping after a hero dies saving you

09-27-07, 03:26 PM
In Iraq, coping after a hero dies saving you <br />
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By Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY <br />
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Army Staff Sgt. Ian Newland spotted the enemy grenade inside the Humvee. Almost simultaneously, he saw Spc. Ross...

09-27-07, 03:27 PM
Reverberating tales of heroism

By Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY

Since the start of the war in Iraq in March 2003, at least five U.S. servicemen have thrown themselves on live grenades to save their fellow troops.

In previous wars, troops who have done that have traditionally been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. So far, one of those five, U.S. Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham, has received this highest award.

What the five service members did:

Army Spc. Ross McGinnis

Spc. Ross McGinnis, 19, was the gunner in the last Humvee of a convoy moving slowly through the violent Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyah in Baghdad the morning of Dec. 4, 2006. They had rounded a corner when McGinnis, standing in the turret, yelled: "Grenade!"

Sgt. 1st Class Cedric Thomas, 31, in the right front passenger seat asked him where it was. In the rear seats, near where McGinnis was standing, Staff Sgt. Ian Newland, 27, and Spc. Sean Lawson, 20, didn't know if the grenade was inside or outside the vehicle. McGinnis' movements made them think he was struggling, perhaps fumbling with or trying to bat away the explosive.

Thomas and the driver, Sgt. Lyle Buehler, 23, both heard the sickening "clink" of a grenade landing inside. Newland and Lawson saw McGinnis lower himself onto the explosive. The blast killed McGinnis, blew the Humvee doors open and sprayed Thomas, Buehler and Newland with shrapnel. Newland, the most seriously wounded, was transported out of Iraq. Thomas, Buehler and Lawson recovered and are still in combat.

Navy Petty Officer Michael Monsoor

Navy Petty Officer Michael Monsoor and three other Navy SEALs moved in darkness to establish a sniper post on a rooftop in Ramadi the morning of Sept. 29, 2006. Monsoor, 25, of Garden Grove, was already in line for a Silver Star for bravery four months earlier when he helped rescue a wounded Navy SEAL lying exposed to enemy machine gunfire.

On this day, the sniper team was in position when a grenade flew over a wall and hit Monsoor in the chest, dropping onto the roof. A SEAL was near a corner of the rooftop to Monsoor's left. Another sat a few feet to his right. Monsoor was the only one who could have leaped away in the few seconds before the blast, said two SEALs who were present, but who declined to be identified for security reasons.

Monsoor chose to fall onto the grenade. He died within the hour from his wounds. Three other Navy SEALs were sprayed with shrapnel. Two had to be carried from the rooftop.

Army Reserve Sgt. James Witkowski

A convoy carrying building supplies was rumbling north from Balad, Iraq, on the morning of Oct. 26, 2005, when it entered an ambush nearly two miles long. Roadside bombs exploded. Rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons opened up. In the command vehicle, Army Reserve Sgt. James "Ski" Witkowski, 25, opened fire with his .50-caliber machine gun in the turret.

The convoy commander, Staff Sgt. Mike Mulcahy, 31, heard Witkowski stop firing. In a rear seat, Army Reserve Spc. Keith Lamott, 27, of Tucson, heard Witkowski grunt. Then there was an explosion. They now believe that a grenade landed just above the rim of the turret and Witkowski blocked it with his body to minimize the blast or keep it from falling inside the Humvee.

He was killed instantly. Shrapnel rained down on Mulcahy, Lamott and the driver, Staff Sgt. Jeffery Gantt, 37, of Fredericksburg, Va., another National Guardsman. The soldiers were about a month from coming home.

Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta

On Nov. 15, 2005, then-Marine Lance Cpl. Adam Morrison was among the first to enter a house in Fallujah where insurgents inside opened fire. Behind him, Sgt. Rafael Peralta, 25, of San Diego, fell to the floor with a gunshot wound to the neck. And then gunmen tossed a grenade.

Morrison and a second Marine crouched inside the building, unable to move forward into insurgent fire, unable to flee with the grenade between them and the exit. Peralta struggled to breathe through his blood-clogged airway and lay face down inches from the grenade. As Morrison watched, the sergeant grabbed the device with his right hand and pulled it under his chest.

Stunned by that sight, Morris braced for the blast, which showered him and two other Marines with shrapnel. Peralta was dead. The Marines later regrouped, some with fixed bayonets, and killed every insurgent in the house. Morrison, 22 and today a sergeant, is now on his third combat tour and back in Iraq.

Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham

In his book on the life and death of Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham, Gift of Valor, author Michael Phillips recounts a barracks discussion among Marines stationed in Husaybah, Iraq, near the Syrian border in 2004, where Dunham theorizes how covering a live grenade with a Kevlar helmet, with the added safeguard of body armor, might blunt the blast.

The theory became reality April 14, 2004, as Dunham, 22, of Scio, N.Y., led his squad to search a row of vehicles in Husaybah. The driver of one car leaped out and grabbed Dunham by the throat. The two fought before a grenade the man had hidden in his clothing fell to the ground and Dunham used his helmet to cover it.

The blast sent a fragment deep into his brain as other shrapnel sprayed two Marines nearby. A third Marine gunned down the driver as he tried to flee. Dunham was evacuated back to the United States, where he died eight days later. In a ceremony at the White House on Jan. 11, President Bush posthumously awarded Dunham a Medal of Honor, presenting it to his parents, Dan and Debra Dunham.