CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq -- The second-highest ranking officer in the Department of Defense, Gen. Peter Pace, decorated seven Marines wounded in battle.
The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff pinned Purple Heart medals on the combat-wounded Marines during a visit to Camp Fallujah Aug. 5. The Marines, all from 1st Marine Division's Regimental Combat Team 1, were recovering from a variety of undisclosed wounds at a medical facility run by Bravo Surgical Company, 1st Medical Battalion, 1st Force Service Support Group.
"I know as you are laying there right know, you are saying to yourself, 'You are not a hero,'" Pace told the Marines. "But I tell you, from a guy like me looking at you - I consider you a hero.
"I mentioned to some of your fellow Marines today that what Marines fear most ... that we would let down more that 200 years of tradition and legacy that have been passed down to us," Pace added. "The men in this room don't have to worry about it."
Sgt. Jerry N. McPherson, a 27-year-old from Martinsburg, W.V., was among those who was decorated by Pace. He is an infantryman assigned to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. He suffered shrapnel wounds from a mortar attack.
He said it was an unexpected honor to have the four-star general personally present the Purple Heart. Still, McPherson was eager to get back to full duty and return to his unit.
"There's still a battle to be fought because we still have bad guys out there," McPherson said.
The vice chairman's gesture wasn't lost on the Marines. Marines and sailors alike were struck by the fact he took the time to visit and offer his gratitude to those who were wounded.
Capt. Stefan Sneden, commanding officer for Company B, 1st Tank Battalion, said the impromptu awards ceremony in the crowded room of cots was telling of the bond Marines share.
"That's what's great about the Corps," said Sneden, a 29-year-old from Still Water, Okla. "He made time to come down to a handful of Marines to pay tribute to the sacrifice they're making."
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Steven F. McCallister, a hospital corpsman who works at the medical ward, said the ceremony was the first he witnessed at the side of a cot. He added that Pace's visit was uplifting.
"It was impressive to see the general show up because we've never had a ceremony like this inside," said McCallister, a 24-year-old from Florence, S.C. "It's important our patients get recognized because they're the one's who are out there living in fighting holes."
The morale of those recovering from their wounds was visibly high, Sneden added. The Marines didn't act as if they were incapacitated, but ready to rejoin the ranks and step out on more missions.
"When you go in a room of wounded Marines, some expect to see down faces," Sneden explained. "But in fact, they just want to finish the job."
"General Conway and I and the rest of the Marines have nothing but total respect for you," Pace added. "You make us proud, honored and humbled to be in the same room with you."
Along with McPherson, the other Marines decorated were:
Lance Cpl. Douglas R. Curl Jr., a 19-year-old from Willows, Calif., assigned to Company G, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.
Lance Cpl. Jeremy K. Kanitz, a 19-year-old from Olney, Ill., with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.
Lance Cpl. Richard A. Ross, a 22-year-old from Rockledge, Fla., assigned to Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.
Cpl. Daniel B. Bundner, a 24-year-old from Madison, Wis., with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.
Cpl. Alexander Mobley, a 24-year-old from DeRidder, La., assigned to Company B, 1st Tank Battalion.
1st Sgt. Alan D. Miller, a 43-year-old from Temecula, Calif., assigned to Company K, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.