Platoon commander earns a Silver Star

By Gidget Fuentes
Times staff writer

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - It was a hot summer day in 2004 when then-1st Lt. Brian von Kraus' reconnaissance platoon found itself under machine-gun fire while conducting a clandestine mission in Iraq's Anbar province.

The platoon commander wasted no time to protect his convoy of men and vehicles, first running to the aid of his wounded men and then leading three separate assaults on the foreign fighters who challenged them.

When the firefight was over, seven enemy fighters lay dead, two others were captured and many more were wounded.

The Marine Corps calls his actions that day - July 25, 2004 - heroic and, Feb. 8, awarded von Kraus, now a captain with Alpha Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, the Silver Star, the nation's third-highest award for combat bravery.

"Engaging the enemy, he heroically led three separate assaults on different enemy strong points, personally destroying insurgents with rifle fire and grenades," the award citation reads. "Under a fusillade of enemy fire, First Lieutenant Von Kraus rallied his Marines and led them in close quarters combat resulting in seven foreign fighters killed, two foreign fighters captured, and scores of enemy combatants wounded. His exemplary leadership and tenacious fighting spirit inspired all who observed his personal valor and turned the tide of battle in the face of a resolute and fanatical enemy."

Von Kraus, accompanied by his parents, received the medal from Maj. Gen. Richard Natonski, the 1st Marine Division commander, as hundreds of members of 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, watched from the parade deck at Camp Horno.

The award came just days before the 27-year-old von Kraus shipped out on another deployment, his fourth in recent years. He's leading Alpha Company's 3rd Platoon, which is attached to 1/4, the battalion landing team for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The MEU left San Diego on Feb. 15 with the Peleliu Expeditionary Strike Group.

Von Kraus, who joined the Corps in 2000, credits the bravery and combat skills of his men for his high honors. "They did what they had to do," he said. "Everything came together on that day. Everything went well."

The ambush occurred during Operation Trojan Horse, details of which remain classified. In the days leading up to the mission, the platoon had spent much time in vehicles, doing counterambush and other drills.

Their convoy came under attack from foreign fighters' 12.7mm machine-gun rounds and small-arms fire in a three-pronged ambush near Fallujah; time seemed to zip by as von Kraus and his platoon sergeant, Staff Sgt. James Treadwell, led their men in a counterattack that was at close quarters at times.

"It felt like it lasted 10 minutes," said von Kraus, who later learned it had lasted nearly an hour.

Several of his men received combat medals, including two Bronze Stars and several Navy and Marine Corps commendation and achievement medals for valor, for that day and for other missions during their seven-month deployment, he said.

No one was killed or seriously wounded.

Von Kraus learned of his award just days earlier, while he was spending time with his parents before the deployment.

His parents, who emigrated from Romania before he was born in Massachusetts, had known little of what their son did while in Iraq.

"I think about where I was on July 25," said his mother, Roxana von Kraus, referring to what her son was enduring a half a world away in Iraq, where she had sent many care packages to his entire platoon during its deployment.

She said that when she heard about the award and how his superiors regard him, she wasn't surprised.

"He's very good with his people," she said. "This is extraordinary."

His father wasn't too surprised by the accolades.

"He doesn't like to brag," Rudiger von Kraus said of his son.

"Putting himself above others is against his nature, and I think that is why he's so respected by his people."

The family name dates back to 1702 and means "recognition of bravery," he said, noting historical ties to Romanian battles against the Turks.

"In a way, then," he added, "you follow in the footsteps of your generations."