Local News

Marines Receive Purple Hearts In Ceremony At Camp Lejeune

Posted August 18, 2003 3:07 a.m. EDT

— Nearly two dozen Camp Lejeune Marines who participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom received Purple Hearts Monday.

Often during military ceremonies, people hear stories of bravery and courage in battle. But that was not the case Monday. As one of the generals said, the Purple Heart can be summed up in five words: "For wounds received in action."

More than 500 soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment gathered to honor 21 of their brothers, who were wounded in combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom. They were presented with Purple Hearts, an award no one sets out to earn.

"They were dedicated and committed even in the face of personal danger," an announcer told the crowd during the ceremony.

The soggy field that hosted the ceremony at Camp Lejeune was a world away from the deserts of Irag. But memories of the battle front were still fresh in their minds.

The Marines were ambushed by enemy fire as they secured a bridge in Nasiriya.

"It is like a movie," said Cpl. John Wentzel. "Artillery coming from the sky, troops on the ground. And they are shooting bullets, rockets. I mean, every other second, your rib cage is being rattled. It is something you can't describe. I can't put it into words."

The Marines held the bridge for two days but suffered dozens of casualties. Wentzel was shot in the shoulder as he tried to carry wounded soldiers to safety.

"When we went to take the casualties back to the South, I actually got ambushed," he said. "My squad got ambushed in the middle of the city. We were there for three hours in a building."

Those Marines now wear one of the military's highest honors on their chest. They accepted it Monday with heavy hearts and thoughts of the 18 Marines who lost their lives at Nasiriya.

"It makes you want to not be lazy and go out and do everything you ever wanted to do," Wentzel said. "It motivates you for the rest of your life."

A total of 25 Marines from Camp Lejeune died in Operation Iraqi Freedom. They will all be honored in a ceremony here later this month.