Leatherneck honored for leadership in Fallujah
By Trista Talton
Staff writer

CAMP GEIGER, N.C. - Not a day goes by that Staff Sgt. Richard Pillsbury doesn't think about the Marines he led, and lost, in Iraq in 2004.

Now, he wears a Silver Star - presented to him Nov. 22 for his heroism as a platoon commander in Fallujah - in their honor.

"It's very humbling to be put in this position," he said. "You really don't wear this for yourself. You wear it for those Marines."

Pillsbury, 38, a combat instructor at the Infantry Unit Leaders Course at Camp Lejeune, N.C., has been a leader throughout his Marine career.

When he enlisted in 1994 at 26, drill instructors at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego looked to him to help encourage homesick recruits. Pillsbury knew what it was like - he had joined the Army fresh out of high school to serve with the 82nd Airborne Division.

Leadership came naturally on Nov. 10, 2004, after Pillsbury's platoon commander with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, was wounded in Fallujah. Pillsbury remembers following the blood trail his lieutenant left behind, his hand badly injured by the hatch of an assault amphibian vehicle.

He persuaded his platoon commander to leave, subsequently taking the lieutenant's role and leading his Marines into what turned into two weeks of intense house-to-house fighting.

His citation reads, "Leading with great skill, presence of mind and calm effectiveness, he repeatedly directed his Marines and supporting arms in attacks on many buildings, under heavy enemy fires, and in direct, close combat."

Two years later, Pillsbury humbly accepted the military's third-highest award given for valor.

His awards include the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with combat "V," Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with four gold stars, Army Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal with four bronze stars, and the Army Good Conduct Medal.

"Today is a good day for our hero," said Maj. Gen. Walter Gaskin, commanding general of 2nd Marine Division and II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward). "Our nation, our Corps, can't thank him enough for what he did. That day, that time, Staff Sergeant Pillsbury was ready for what happened. He deserves all of our recognition. He deserves our praise."

Pillsbury shares what happened during those weeks, as well as his combat experiences in 2003 while assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, with the leathernecks he teaches.

"As an instructor, it helps to hear about the things that they've seen," Pillsbury said.

When his thoughts fill with memories of the winter of 2004, some days, he said, are better than others. But one thing remains true.

"For me, personally, there's not a day that I don't think about those Marines," he said. "They were the most phenomenal group of Marines I've ever had."