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Marine fought for several days, despite gunshot wound

17 Apr 2004 | Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald

Sgt. Kenneth Conde Jr. didn't even realize he was shot until someone told him.

In the mid-afternoon hours of April 6, Conde's unit, 3rd Mobile Assault Platoon, Mobile Assault Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, received orders to help evacuate two casualties from Company G wounded during a firefight in the city of Ar Ramadi.

"There were ambushes going on everywhere," 22-year-old Conde said. "We were able to get to the casualties and get them loaded up into our vehicle."

But in combat, the plan rarely survives first contact.  What was supposed to be a simple in-and-out mission rapidly changed when the 27-man platoon came under fire.  Machine gunners laid down suppressive fire from the tops of the trucks and cleared a path for the convoy to maneuver.

"The platoon turned down what we call Easy Street," explained the Orlando, Fla., infantryman. "That's when we saw another squad and a company."

Marines down that street were engaged in a vicious gun battle with enemy forces.  Shots rang out from every direction. There was no way for Conde's convoy to get through without putting up a fight.

"There were people everywhere and we couldn't really tell where the firing was coming from," he said.

Conde knew the Marines couldn't defeat an unseen enemy.  He needed to locate the enemy before destroying him.  Rifle in hand, he headed down the street to do just that.

"The insurgents are like ghosts," he said. "They have the element of surprise because they can hide. They see us but we can't see them. I knew we had to get out to see where they were shooting from."

The sergeant called upon Cpl. Jared H. McKenzie and Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Cox to leave their vehicles and follow him to the front of the convoy.

"Wherever Sergeant Conde goes, that's where we go," said Cox, of Saint Peter's Mo. "No questions asked. We just follow him."

The three of them darted past the trucks looking for enemy positions on the rooftops.

"We walked up to the third block past the vehicles and spotted a guy shooting at us from one of the rooftops," Conde said. "One of the gunners, Lance Cpl. Matthew Brown, took that building out with his machine gun."

Conde, McKenzie and Cox kept searching for the enemy. They exposed themselves to the fire - the only way they could get a good look at enemy's firing positions.  As they pushed forward, Conde was able to take out two shooters, but then things took a turn for the worse.

"I was running and I watched as I got shot in the left shoulder," Conde said. "I remember seeing a red mist coming from my back."

Even though he saw himself get shot, it didn't occur to Conde to quit fighting.
"I didn't really realize I had been shot until one of the Marines said something," he added.

According to McKenzie, Conde fired several shots, killing a combatant, before falling to the ground. He then managed to get back to his feet and fire a few more rounds at the enemy before falling again.

"We helped him up so he could get to the corpsman to get bandaged up," McKenzie, 22-year-old from Bonaqua, Tenn. "We made sure to kill the guys who shot him."
The corpsman treated Conde, who only wanted to get his gear and get back to the fight. 
Conde's Marines were out there and he knew his place was alongside them.

"We stayed and fought until every one of the insurgents was dead," Conde said.
Before the day was through, 3rd MAP also raided the house of a former Ba'ath Party member and seized a large weapons cache.

Over the next few days, Conde's unit participated in several other firefights until the violence died down. All the while, he nursed his wound, not giving into the pain and refusing to leave his Marines.

Only when his arm went numb, making it difficult to hold his rifle steady, did he finally give in and step out of the fight.

Back at the camp here, Marines asked Conde why he chose to stay and fight even after being shot.

"I told them that I couldn't just leave the fight when I still could keep going," he told them.

But it his actions didn't surprise his fellow Marines.

"He always told us that he would lead us from the front, and that we would never do anything if he wasn't doing it too," Cox explained. "After being in that firefight with him, I will always know that he is true to his word."