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Marines pause to honor Navy hospital corpsman killed in action

28 May 2006 | Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Lee Hamilton Deal was more than just a platoon corpsman to his Marines.  He was a team member.

Marines of 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, paused to honor “Doc” Deal, a hospital corpsman assigned to the battalion’s B Company, 1st Platoon.  He was memorialized at Camp Fallujah’s Chapel of Hope May 28.  Deal was killed in action May 17.  He was 23.

“Our corpsmen are special to us Marines and in every sense of the word, they are fellow Marines,” said Lt Col. James N. Bright, commanding officer of 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion.  “As we train and fight, there they are … taking the same chances, living in the same poor conditions and when required, fighting by our side.

“Lee wore the same dirty, torn, smelly utilities worn by Marines,” Bright added.  “He was ready to fight and when required, tend to the aid of the wounded brother Marines.” 

Bright said Deal’s actions on the day he was killed demonstrated how he carried himself at all times as a combatant corpsman, a sailor ready to fight alongside his Marines.

Bright explained Lee died “fearlessly clearing a suspected insurgent stronghold with his fellow Marines, willingly sacrificing his own safety to the benefit of his fellow Marines and to the successful accomplishment of the mission.”

Deal was described by 1st Lt. Craig Q. Reese, his platoon commander, as an outspoken, energetic, funny, caring young man who once performed first aid on a cow because that was part of what Deal saw as his responsibility.  Deal’s sense of humor and caring for every member of the platoon endeared him to all their hearts.

“He was everything I expected in a corpsman and much more,” said Reese, a 30-year-old from Thermopolis, Wyo.  “He may not have appeared to be the typical sailor, but when it came to the job, there was no one better.”

Reese said the respect and love Deal shared with his team was evident by their actions the night Deal was killed.

“During that early morning after the initial firefight, the Marines knew what they were going to do for our friend and comrade,” Reese explained.  “Doc was inside the building and they were not going to leave him behind.  In the dark, smoke-filled room, Marines went in after ‘Doc’ and pulled him out.  I cannot imagine any honor greater.”

Deal was known to his Marines as a hard worker, a character and “crucial member to the teams in our platoon.”  He was a caring fiancé, comical joker, tremendous athlete and great friend who enjoyed golf.

“Every platoon needs that funny, outspoken guy,” said Cpl. Thomas N. Steshko, a 23-year-old from Burke, Va.  “We had ‘Doc’ Lee Deal.  He always put everything into perspective and broke the ice when tensions were high.

“Lee Deal is going to be missed,” Steshko said.  “He was a good man, a good operator and an excellent friend.  He’s leaving big shoes to be filled.  Just this past weekend my father went down to Louisiana to attend his funeral.  He told me earlier today that on the procession from the church to the cemetery he counted 200-plus vehicles at Deal’s funeral …just to tell you the type of person he was.”

Deal graduated West Monroe High School in West Monroe, La., in 2001.  There, he excelled in football, soccer, baseball and golf.  Following high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was assigned to Division 098 at Naval Training Center Great Lakes, Ill., and graduated March 13, 2003.  He attended training at Naval Hospital Corps School and later Field Medical Service School at Camp Pendleton, Calif.  Upon completion, he was assigned to Reconnaissance Indoctrination Course at Camp Pendleton and then Reconnaissance Basic Course at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, Calif.  Other training assignments included Marine Combatant Divers Course in Panama City, Fla., Dive Medicine Course at Naval Dive and Salvage Center in Panama City, Basic Airborne Course at Fort Benning, Ga., and the Joint Special Operations Combat Medical Course at the Joint Special Operations Medical Training Center in Fort Bragg, N.C.  He was then assigned to 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion. 

Deal’s awards include the Purple Heart with gold star in lieu of second award, Combat Action Ribbon, Navy Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan M. Christensen, a fellow hospital corpsman, said he and Deal trained together and shared an apartment.  He said he was a disciplined scholar, spending late nights buried in the books and patient mentor, practicing procedures together.

“I cherish the time we spent together, knowing anything we went through was made that much better by having Lee with me by my side,” Christensen said.  “It was my honor to have known Lee, to have shared in his life and to be his friend.  Lee’s made such an overwhelming impact on so many lives that it’s truly hard to put into words, the impact he’s had on mine.  Losing Lee is one of the hardest things I’ve had to endure in my life.”

A rifle, helmet, boots and identification tags were placed next to a portrait of Deal in the chapel.  “Amazing Grace” was played on the bagpipes followed by “Taps.”  After the strains of the bugler fell silent, Marines and sailors stepped up to Deal’s memorial to share private moments and final prayers.

“The price of freedom requires force, determination, courage and sacrifice,” Bright said.  “And at times, it requires the lives of heroes. Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Lee Hamilton Deal was the embodiment of all those attributes and in my eyes, he was a hero.”