CAMP ZADAN, Iraq -- Sixty Purple Heart medals were awarded to Marines from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment during multiple ceremonies here recently.
The award was given to the Marines for wounds received in combat since the beginning of their deployment as part of the 1st Marine Division in Iraq. The ceremonies were held for each company in the field. Because of their different locations, the command staff traveled to each location to award the Marines.
The battalion's commander was humbled as he pinned the medal on one Marine's uniform.
"For me it's a very humbling experience to stand in front of a Marine and give him this award," said Lt. Col. Giles Kyser, from Dumfries, Va. "He bled for his country ... it's one of the greatest honors of my life to do this. "
Kyser admitted the Purple Heart is the one medal no Marine truly wants to earn. However, he did say the medal is one that solidly identifies a Marine's thorough commitment to the Corps.
"You see a great degree of resolve in the eyes of these Marines," Kyser said of the Marines awarded the medal. "It makes all the rhetoric and tradition they've been taught become very personal."
Some Marines told their stories of combat injuries with a sense of disbelief. Sgt. William T. Hoots, 24, a squad leader with Company G, still can't believe he made it out to receive his award. He was wounded by shrapnel near his eye, but the wounds didn't affect his vision.
"We shouldn't have walked away from what we did," said Hoots, from Roodhouse, Ill. "There was a wall of lead and mortars to get through. My grandfather got a purple heart in World War II. Now we have a little more in common."
Still, Hoots said the Purple Heart doesn't make him special.
"It makes me stand a little taller, but I'm still a Marine," he said. "I just feel blessed we all made it out of that ambush."
Kyser spoke to the Marines after each ceremony, explaining to them about the new brotherhood of which they are now a part.
"You're already part of a special brotherhood. You're Marines," Kyser explained to the decorated Marines. "Now you are part of an even more select brotherhood.
"You shouldn't envy the Marines in this special brotherhood," he said to gathered formation. "You should admire them."
After pinning the medals to the recipients, the Marines were congratulated and also warned.
"This is something you should only get once," Kyser added. "You've inspired me by continuing to fight even after your injuries ... I walk in the shadow of greatness every day."