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thedrifter
08-21-09, 07:51 AM
Cozad man honored for bravery

By Henry J. Cordes
Published: Friday, August 21, 2009 4:14 AM CDT
World-Herald News Service

In the heat of an ambush in Afghanistan's most lawless province, a 19-year-old Nebraskan jumped in front of a grenade to shield other Marines in his platoon.

Richard Weinmaster was critically wounded by the blast. But the bloodied Cozad native stayed in the fight, firing his machine gun at the enemy position until he collapsed from his wounds.

Looking back at the July 8, 2008, engagement, Weinmaster says he was "just doing my job."

But his bosses in the Marine Corps - and the Secretary of the Navy - felt otherwise.

On Thursday, they awarded the now 20-year-old Weinmaster with the Navy Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor for recognition of bravery in combat.

"By his outstanding display of decisive action, unlimited courage in the face of extreme danger, and total dedication to duty, Private First Class Weinmaster reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service," reads the citation, signed by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

Weinmaster's family, including parents Jim and Karen Weinmaster of Cozad, were on hand at the Marine Corps base in Twentynine Palms, Calif., for the presentation of the medal and Weinmaster's promotion to lance corporal.

And their pride was shared back in Cozad, where Weinmaster graduated from high school before enlisting in 2007.

"You will never meet a quieter, nicer, more courteous young man," said Tim Hansen, Weinmaster's high school counselor. "This is the feel-good deal of the year for us."

Last year, Weinmaster and other members of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment were serving in Helmand Province, a deadly part of southern Afghanistan that has long been a stronghold of the Taliban. It was Weinmaster's first deployment, and he'd been on the ground about two and a half months.

Weinmaster was on patrol July 8 with 3rd Platoon, Company E, walking out in front with his automatic weapon.

They were making their way through an 8-foot wide alley bordered by 10-foot mud-brick walls on both sides. It had been dubbed "ambush alley"- for good reason, as they suddenly found. The patrol was attacked with small-arms fire and grenades.

Weinmaster fired back until he noticed an incoming grenade land near his team leader, Lance Cpl. Travis Wilkerson.

Wilkerson says Weinmaster shoved him out of the way and jumped toward the grenade to try to smother the blast. It exploded while Weinmaster was in mid-air, and he took the brunt of the shrapnel.

Wilkerson and other Marines were uninjured. But Weinmaster received numerous shrapnel wounds to his body and head, including a shrapnel piece that went through his eye socket into his brain.

Despite his injuries, Weinmaster again took up his machine gun and resumed fire on the enemy position 50 yards away. The Marines say his fire forced the enemy to break contact, and Weinmaster ultimately collapsed from his wounds.

Weinmaster suffered severe injuries to his head, legs and abdomen and was airlifted to the United States. Hansen said there was initially much uncertainty that Weinmaster would survive.

But after months of recuperation, he recovered. He still has a piece of shrapnel lodged in his brain.

During his recuperation, he spent several weeks in Cozad visiting family, friends and former teachers, and local officials held a big reception for him. He eventually was able to return to his unit at Twentynine Palms.

And after months of review at the Navy's highest levels, he was honored Thursday for his valor. Major Gen. Richard Mills, commanding general of the 1st Marine Division pinned the Navy Cross on his chest.

After the ceremony, scores of Marines and former Marines thanked Weinmaster. Weinmaster was smiling but remained humble about it all.

"I didn't do anything special," he said. "Everyone on my left and right would have done the same thing. I was just in the right place at the right time."

Ellie