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Echo Co, 2/1: 'Wounded in body but never our spirit, will or resolve'

25 May 2004 | Gunnery Sgt. Claudia LaMantia

Saddam Hussein and his sons Uday and Qusay once lounged on the shores of Camp Baharia's palm-lined, man-made lake. It was once called Dreamland.For 28 Marines from Company E, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, the formation by the lake was a stark reminder of the reality of the fighting they endured. The 28 were awarded Purple Hearts for wounds received in combat. Most of the awards were for wounds suffered during Operation Vigilant Resolve in Fallujah where their battalion - alongside 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment and later 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment - cordoned the city and engaged in a month-long battle with terrorist forces. "The valor of this company alone will preserve our battlefield legacy for about the next century," said Capt. Douglas A. Zembiec, the company commander. The battle-hardened unit stood proudly as Sgt. Maj. Randall Carter, the battalion sergeant major, called out, "Lance Corporal Samuel Edwards was wounded during combat operations in Fallujah, Iraq, 24 March 2004. He's awarded the Purple Heart by the President of the United States, the Honorable Mr. Bush." Carter's voice called out 27 more verses of this strain before the conclusion of the ceremony, each differing only by the name and the date. A white board displayed in front of the formation added to the solemn tone. It read simply "Wounded in body, but never our spirit, our will or our resolve. Men of Echo 2/1."In total, 53 Marines from Company E earned Purple Hearts since the unit's return to Iraq in February. Still, only 28 were on hand for the ceremony. Three Marines were killed in action; the rest suffered wounds that necessitated medical evacuation back to the United States for follow-on treatment and recovery.After the ceremony, the company gathered in a circle as Lt. Col. Gregg P. Olson, the battalion commander, spoke to the crowd clad in desert camouflage utilities and peppered with Purple Hearts. He commended the Marines from all ranks and jobs descriptions for their steadfastness under fire."This company - I know I can count on for the toughest tasks because you take care of each other," Olson said. "The risks aren't confined to one rank in this company."The recipients - ranging from privates first class to captains - stood side by side. In the midst of the sweltering noon heat, the group paid close attention to their battalion commander's words."That spirit of brethren Marines that animates this company is evident all the time," Olson said. "It was extremely evident during real hard fights when brothers of this company came to the aid of brothers, sometimes at the cost of their own lives."The senior hospital corpsman for the company, 20-year-old Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jason R. Duty, recounted what happened the day he was wounded.Marines were in need of medical aid at 2nd Platoon's position. When Duty arrived, he found four wounded Marines at the scene.Hesitant to tell his story, Duty lowered his voice as he spoke of the events that unfolded.The team made several trips to pick up the wounded. "On the third, maybe the fourth trip, about 15 yards away in a second-story window, there was some insurgents shooting down," Duty recalled. "I caught some shrapnel in my arms, just little pieces were up and down my arms."When I finally got down to the casualty point, I noticed that I was bleeding in a couple of places. So, I got them bandaged up real quick, got checked out by the surgeon and he cleared me to go back for duty."But seeing his comrades wounded and killed is the most difficult part for the New Concord, Ohio sailor.It "was the night of (April) 12th - we had eleven guys hit real bad, at once," Duty said.Some of these men had deployed alongside Duty during the initial drive into Iraq last year and the entire company had come home alive. But this mid-April day, the company suffered its first Marines killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Two were wounded so badly they were sent back to the United States. "That was hard," Duty added.Company E's senior enlisted Marine, 1st Sgt. William S. Skiles, understands just how hard it can be."No one prepares you to go in to save wounded while someone is shooting at you at the same time," Skiles said.The San Juan Capistrano, Calif., Marine said he is impressed with how the Marines and sailors in his charge are coping. "It brought us closer; adversity always brings people together," he added. The Marines and sailors act "like it never happened."The Marines are nearly halfway done with their stay in Iraq and are already making plans for their homecoming. "Fine food, fine wine and as far as the guys go, 100 percent leave," Skiles explained. "Let them enjoy themselves - but I'm going to tell them, 'Tell the stories of your warriors. Tell your grandfathers, your brothers, your whole family about Echo 2/1. Tell them of the valor.'"During the ceremony, the company commander stood silently in formation with his men, receiving his own Purple Heart. Zembiec left them with something to think about after the awards formation."Don't kid yourselves - you put yourselves in the history books," he said. "But let's stay vigilant - we're not even halfway through this. OK. Stay hard and get back to work."