September 18, 2006
Marines brave ‘hell’ in Hadithah
Navy Cross, Silver Star awarded for actions in deadly firefight

By Beth Zimmerman
Staff writer

Lance Cpl. Todd Corbin and the rest of his battalion commander’s personal security detachment had just finished several days of routine patrol and had returned to Hadithah Dam when they got the call.

A platoon from the battalion was taking fire on the east side of the Euphrates River, and they needed Marines to block the insurgents’ retreat. Corbin hopped into his 7-ton truck, while other members of the detachment — which was now a quick-reaction force — piled into three Humvees and two tanks and barreled east toward the action.

By the end of May 7, 2005, four Marines would lose their lives, but Corbin’s role in saving more than half of the QRF would earn him the Navy Cross more than a year later. A Marine driving the third Humvee, then-Cpl. Jeff Schuller, would later receive the Silver Star.

From silence to chaos

That day, the QRF consisting mostly of leathernecks from 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, passed plenty of Iraqis on its way to the west side of the river, but once it passed under the gate into Hadithah, “there was no one out, nothing moving,” Corbin said.

Passing an alley perpendicular to the road, the convoy started turning around. Before the vehicles could all face north, Corbin said, “all hell broke loose.”

A white van tore out of the alley and blew up between two of the Humvees. Then, another explosion “came out of nowhere,” said Corbin, who still isn’t even sure if it was from a roadside bomb or a rocket-propelled grenade. Meanwhile, the enemy pelted the Marines with RPGs, mortars and small-arms fire in a “choke point” surrounded by high ground, Corbin said.

“It was a total nightmare,” said Schuller, now a 26-year-old sergeant.

A Navy corpsman and three QRF Marines — two sergeants and a lance corporal — were killed instantly. Only five of the remaining 15 Marines were unscathed, leaving more than half of the QRF killed or injured, Schuller said.

Corbin, 32, who has since been promoted to corporal, “leapt into the enemy fire, directing Marines to engage and marking targets,” his Navy Cross citation states. He ran to his patrol leader, a seriously injured sergeant, threw him over his shoulder and ran back to the 7-ton, all the while “firing at the enemy with his off-hand,” the citation states.

“He just jumped [out of the 7-ton] and took over,” said Schuller, who added that they were down to uninjured corporals and lance corporals running the QRF at that point. “He immediately started getting the killed and wounded, not thinking of himself.”

When the gunner for Schuller’s Humvee, Lance Cpl. Mark Kalinowski, was hit in the wrist with shrapnel, Schuller jumped up and took the lance corporal’s spot behind the M240G machine gun.

Under intense enemy fire, Schuller gunned down insurgents shooting from the windows, doorways and roof of a nearby hospital, and others shooting from another roof and the alley. He swung his machine gun back and forth between targets for nearly 40 minutes, according to his Silver Star citation, using all of his ammo — short of launching a rocket.

“When the 240 went dry, [Kalinowski] handed me my M16 with a full magazine … as I got the M16 empty, he had a new box of 240 [ammo] waiting for me,” Schuller said.

As that was happening, Corbin raced back and forth through the kill zone, dragging Marines back to the 7-ton. He said he can’t remember how many times he ran across the firing zone.

At one point, Corbin and a wounded Marine were carrying their corpsman to the 7-ton when the enemy opened up with small-arms fire at close range. Corbin leaned over the corpsman to shield him from the action while Schuller pushed back the enemy with his machine gun, the citation says.

Since one gunner had been killed and two were wounded, Corbin said, only one gunner was left, firing a Mark 19 from the 7-ton. When the Mark 19 jammed, the only remaining gunner was Schuller, Corbin said.

“My biggest worry was that we were gonna run out of ammo,” said Schuller, who even fired his 9mm pistol. Schuller was “just short of shooting my AT4 and throwing my Ka-bar” before he dismounted, he said.

He then ran to the 7-ton and helped Corbin load Schuller’s vehicle commander, who had been killed, before he returned through enemy fire to guide Kalinowski to the 7-ton.

Grabbing magazines of ammo from Corbin, Schuller fired his rifle while the rest of the QRF packed into the 7-ton. Any Marine who could fire a weapon had it pointed out of the truck, firing at insurgents, Corbin said.

“The 7-ton looked like a porcupine with all these weapons sticking out of it,” he said.

It also had three flat tires and a shot-up radiator.

“I don’t even know how this vehicle even ran,” Corbin said.

“The whole platoon rolled out in that 7-ton,” Schuller said. “It’s a testament to Cpl. Corbin’s knowledge of that vehicle that he kept it running.”

Corbin was flipping switches the whole time he drove the five miles back to the battalion aid station, Schuller said.

“Because of [Corbin’s] heroism, no Marine lost his life after the initial attack,” the citation states.

An overwhelming honor

Corbin and Schuller received their medals during a ceremony July 4 at 3/25’s headquarters in Brook Park, Ohio, an event Schuller said was humbling and a little surreal.

“In hindsight, would I do that again? Hell, I don’t know,” Corbin said. “It’s a situation you want to say yeah, every time, but you don’t know,” he said. “It’s just what you’re trained for … and you do it for your buddies.

“I live my life for those who didn’t come home.”