Wounded, but not out
Cullman Marine returns from bombing injuries to support platoon
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
KENT FAULK
News staff writer

Marine Cpl. Rowdy Zane Burney's hands, face and eyes were blasted with shrapnel May 6 when the Humvee he was riding in was blown up by a bomb hidden under a road in western Iraq.

The driver, a friend, was killed and three other Marines were injured.

After recuperating for a month at his camp, the Cullman County native hit the road again. He could have stayed at camp with the Purple Heart that he was awarded. But he chose to go back out despite lingering health problems from the blast and a plea from his mother.

"I want to be with my platoon ... because that's my family out here," Burney said in a telephone interview from Iraq.

Burney, 21, is a combat engineer with Charlie Company second platoon Combat Logistics Battalion 5. The unit fills road craters caused by improvised explosive devices and builds things such as checkpoint stations and temporary housing for infantry.

Burney mans the .50-caliber machine gun on a Humvee turret while his platoon travels to and from work sites.

Burney, who arrived in Iraq in March, said he was going out with his platoon on four or five such convoys a week until that day in May. The convoy was heading along a road in Al Anbar Province to repair two bomb craters. Ahead of the convoy were large vehicles that sweep the road for bombs.

But as Burney's vehicle passed, someone hidden nearby triggered an IED - five 122 mm mortar rounds bundled together and placed in a culvert under the road.

"As soon as it blew up, the Humvee stood straight up, and I hit my face off the .50 caliber," Burney said. "As it came back down, it threw me out of the turret, and I hit the road about 20 feet in front of the Humvee."

The vehicle's front end and turret were blown off. "Marines in the convoy behind us say they saw shrapnel and pieces of Humvee fly at least 40 to 50 feet high," Burney said. With shrapnel in his face, eyes and hands, Burney crawled toward the Humvee, where his lieutenant was leading the effort to get everyone out of the vehicle.

His friend, Lance Cpl. Leon B. Deraps, who was driving the Humvee, was killed. The lieutenant and two other Marines also were injured.

Burney was treated in the medical facility at Abu Ghraib prison and then taken to the Camp Fallujah hospital, where he was checked out by doctors and released to his barracks to recover.

A month later, still with a burst left eardrum and a right thumb that he couldn't fully move, Burney decided he was ready to rejoin his platoon on missions.

"I begged him not to go back out," said Becky Burney, his mother. But she wasn't surprised by his decision. "He's been that kind of person his whole life. ... He believes in helping his buddies," she said.

Burney admits that first convoy back with his platoon in early June was tough. "All you could think about is being blown up again," he said.

In recent days, Burney's platoon hasn't been going out as often as it prepares to return in seven days to Camp Pendleton, Calif., where it is based.

Burney still has 1 years to go on his hitch with the Marines.

When he gets home, Burney wants to go to school and become a diesel engine mechanic. He said he's been home less than 60 days since he enlisted 2 years ago.

"I miss my family more than anything," Burney said.

His mother said her son plans to visit his family in Good Hope in October. When he returns home, Burney will have the Purple Heart he was awarded for his combat injuries.

"I'd give it back if I could have my friend back. I'd give anything to change that day," Burney said.

E-mail: kfaulk@bhamnews.com

Ellie