CAMP HABBANIYAH, Iraq -- Marines from 3rd Battalion 5th Marine Regiment paused to remember two fallen Marines at the Habbaniyah Chapel July 7.
Photos of Staff Sgt. Raymond J. Plouhar and Cpl. Jason Morrow stood propped on a table next to their Purple Heart medals, before a roomful of solemn Marines.
Plouhar, a 31-year-old from Lake Orion, Mich., was serving as platoon commander for Jump Platoon, the battalion commander’s personnel security detachment, when he was killed in action June 26 near Habbaniyah. Morrow, a 27-year-old from Riverside, Calif., died June 27 from injuries incurred in the same hostile action.
“In Marine Corps history, on the 26th of June, in the year 1918, the CG of the 4th Brigade notified American Expeditionary Force Headquarters that Belleau Wood was secure at the cost of over 4,000 casualties,” said Lt. Col. Patrick G. Looney, the battalion’s commander. “The beginnings of our historic regiment and battalion were forged in that battle, and in the blood of many a good Marine.
“And today that legacy continues in battle, and unfortunately, in the blood of our Marines. Our two fallen Marines have joined the ranks of thousands who stand in eternal overwatch.”
Morrow joined the battalion in May of 2003 and was assigned to I Company as a machine gunner. An avid baseball fan, he proposed to his wife Evelyn on the field at Angel Stadium in Anaheim in 2005. He was assigned to Jump Platoon prior to this deployment.
“He was a man who had spent three tours in Iraq, and was looking forward to spending time with his wife and starting a family,” Looney said. “He’s a gentle giant, with a great sense of humor. His passions include his wife Evelyn, surfing, and the Anaheim Angels.”
Lance Cpl. Nicholas Albano served as an infantryman alongside Morrow in Jump Platoon for six months.
“As weird as he could be sometimes, it was alright, because that’s just the way the big man was,” said the 24-year-old from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. “The nights that the platoon was playing Texas Hold’em, you could look into the room and find the two of us playing baseball on the PlayStation.
“It slowly became a nightly ritual for us,” Albano added. “He could never get used to losing so we were up all night. I’ll tell you what, if he were here today, he would argue just the opposite.”
Albano paused several times to hold his composure while speaking of his friend.
“Those were the times you could find Morrow just being himself,” he continued. “He was a great man, and he loved his wife Evelyn, and would never stop talking about how he was going to go surfing when we got home.
“Morrow would want us to know that he’s at peace now, and that he’s in Heaven surfing the biggest and best waves. Morrow, you were like a big brother to us all, and you will be missed by every one of us.”
Morrow and Plouhar both spoke at a memorial service June 3 for Lance Cpl. Benito “Cheeks” Ramirez, also a machine gunner for Jump Platoon who was killed earlier in the deployment.
“Corporal Morrow was my gunner for much of the deployment, but when we lost Cheeks, he gallantly volunteered to be gunner in the lead vehicle,” Looney said. “Jason was a loving husband, a brother, and a loyal friend, and fine Marine. He will be missed.”
Morrow’s awards include two Purple Heart Medals, Combat Action Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and Sea Service Deployment Ribbon with two stars.
Staff Sgt. Raymond Plouhar donated one of his kidneys to his uncle, Tim Kennedy, in 2001. He became a recruiter so he could remain in the Marine Corps while recovering from the operation.
His death received national attention because of his role in the movie ‘Fahrenheit 9/11.’ He’d never met director the movie’s director, Michael Moore, and didn’t know the camera crew was making an anti-war film.
“I never thought I’d have a reason to buy or watch that movie, but I do now,” Looney said. “He was a proud and loving father to his two sons Raymond and Michael, a loving husband to his wife Leigh, and one hell of a Marine leader.
“I hand selected him to be the Jump platoon sergeant after seeing how he handled himself and his Marines,” Looney said. “He effortlessly assumed the platoon commander billet when Lieutenant Jenson was evacuated.”
Col. Larry D. Nicholson, the regimental commander, had known Plouhar as a noncommissioned officer during their days together in 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment.
“I was battalion commander and he was a young rising star of an NCO,” he said. “I was especially happy to see him at San Mateo after my change of duty.
“He was simply referred to me, at my arrival as ‘Staff Sergeant Warlord,’ which was our 2/2 battalion call sign,” he continued. “I looked forward to seeing him as our Grizzly and Darkhorse PSDs linked together on so many occasions here in Iraq.”
Sgt. J.M. Proudman, a scout sniper assigned to Scout Sniper Platoon shared his memories of Plouhar, who served as an assistant team leader for Scout Sniper Section Four during Operation Al Fajr in Fallujah in November 2004.
“The things I remember most about Staff Sergeant Plouhar was his love for shooting, hunting and his two boys, and that every weekend he’d drive 200 miles just to spend time with them,” he said. “Once in the platoon, we had a great friendship. We drove him crazy about being in ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ -- everybody picked on him but he took it good.”
Proudman said one of the fondest memories of Plouhar was during the scout sniper mountain training package in Bridgeport, Calif.
“I remember hiking up to 11,000 feet, dragging Plouhar around to our different positions,” he said. “At every security halt, Plouhar would say ‘I hate you guys.’
“But he really loved us, loved being a Marine, and really loved being a scout sniper,” Proudman said. “He will be missed by all of us, the Darkhorse family and scout sniper community. Rest in peace, brother.”
Plouhar’s awards include the Purple Heart Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon with two stars and Marine Corps Recruiter Ribbon.
Nicholson said the battalion has a history of great individual Marines, and Plouhar and Morrow were two prime examples of noncommissioned leaders.
“While I regrettably do not know each of the 5,000 Marines and Sailors of RCT-5, I did know Corporal Morrow for his services on the Darkhorse PSD, and I knew Staff Sergeant Raymond Plouhar exceptionally well,” he said. “Hand-selected for the difficult mission and the challenges, they performed the only way they knew how, leading from the front, always taking the dangerous assignments, and it is no coincidence this is the way they died -- from the front, and protecting their teammates.”
He added that the sacrifices of our brothers will be remembered as part of the most important struggle of our generation, and their sacrifice will forever be a part of the timeless legacy of the ‘Fighting Fifth Marines.’
“Although they are no longer with us, their memory and fighting spirit is, and as long as there is a 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, they will live on,” Looney said. “There is nothing I can say to alleviate the hurt for the Morrow, Plouhar and Darkhorse families, but what I can offer is that they died as Marines, doing what they chose to do, and doing it exceptionally well.”
Leigh Plouhar sent a poem written by her husband Raymond, which Looney read aloud at the ceremony.
“This is me, this is who I am. I am a Marine to the very end.
I will live, I will fight, I will kill, I will die,
I will live by the motto that is Semper Fi.
I come to countries in far-off lands
To fight for freedom, for which most are scared to stand.
Do not judge me for what I do, for what I do I do for you.
I will kill for those who cannot kill, I will die for those scared to.
I will leave my loved ones, my kids my wife
I will leave them behind to give you a better life.
I have seen and done things that will haunt my dreams,
I have given up many things for you to be free.
Do not feel pity for me for this is my choice I choose,
I choose this life so people like you can have a voice.
I will die on my feet, I will not live on my knees
I do this so America can stay free.
This is me, this is who I am,
I am a Marine to the very end."
-- Staff Sgt. Raymond J. Plouhar