November 05, 2009
Those Magnificent Marines
This is a repost of something I wrote back in 2007. It's a great story about Marines using their training and esprit de corps to help one another recover from the wounds of combat. But perhaps just as importantly, I hope it will keep alive the memory of Sergeant Major, Joseph Ellis who gave his life to protect the Marines under his care and a young Corporal, D.J. Emery, whose story reminds us never to give up hope.
Once again too many cups of coffee have flooded my veins with a heart-pounding rush of caffeine, the writer's heroin. Maybe this time, I'll be able to push past the bleakness. Somehow I can't manage to get the sneering words out of my brain:...yawning hulk, combat-addled, lumbering, blue-eyed, big ox baby...
There is no dignity there, no grace for someone whose service should have incurred gratitude or at least some minimal respect in token of the debt we all owe him. Instead there is only a stunning disregard for someone who seems no longer useful; who can, therefore, be safely treated with casual contempt. I suppose the words were deliberately chosen to provoke anger. They succeeded, though perhaps not in the intended manner.
Interesting that in several days' worth of torrid exposes, the Post can't manage to find anything positive to say. Anything, as usual, that makes our men in uniform look like determined fighters instead of drug-addled losers. We don't want to minimize their pain, or the severity of their wounds, or the horrors of war.
We'd just like people to see how utterly magnificent they are, still, these men we call Marines. How worthy of admiration.
To do that does not glorify war. It merely recognizes the greatness of the human spirit:
Marines wounded by what the military calls improvised explosive devices often have a hard time telling a coherent story about their injuries. They remember driving away from a dusty combat outpost in Fallujah or Baghdad, then recall waking up in a hospital bed in Maryland or California or Texas.
That was the case for Lance Cpls. Josh Bleill and Eric Frazier, who last month sat beneath a scarlet Marine Corps flag at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and described their injuries.
But Cpl. Chad Watson, who sat with them, is an exception. He remembers exactly what happened about 9 a.m. Nov. 29 as he led a team of Marines in the streets of Fallujah. The team from the 1st Battalion of the 24th Marines had just searched the car and were starting to roll again.
"We didn't get more than 100 meters, and it was like I got punched in the face like 10,000 times," Watson said.
What pummeled Watson was a bomb, not a fist. The moment he looked down, he knew his life had changed forever.
"I looked at my right leg, and it was gone - completely gone," said Watson, 24, a college student from Mt. Zion, Ill. "There was a big hole under the driver's side; that's where it hit."
Watson's training took over. Despite his missing leg, the smashed bones in his left heel and ankle, a fractured vertebra, burns and shrapnel wounds to his face, arm and eye, he grabbed his weapon and struggled to get out of the Humvee to defend himself and his comrades. But he couldn't free his twisted left leg from what remained of the Humvee's floor. Marines from other vehicles came running to help.
"I remember them yelling, `Is anybody still alive?'" said Watson.
Finally, after his fellow Marines dragged him into a nearby courtyard, a Navy corpsman tied off his bleeding right leg with a tourniquet. The corpsman gently informed Watson that most of his right leg was gone.
"I was kind of like, `Yeah, no kidding, I saw that.'"
Through it all Watson - still the team leader, despite his grievous wounds - was shouting orders.
"I was actually yelling at the guys to get out of the courtyard ... because there were too many of them," and a large group was liable to draw the insurgents' fire, said Watson. "I was glad how I reacted. I acted good under pressure, and I was happy to hear that they told my parents that."
But then Marines take care of each other. And the three are still taking care of each other now:Generally, Marines like to organize things by threes. Three Marines make a fire team, three fire teams make a squad, three squads make a company, and three line companies make a battalion.
So Watson, Frazier and Bleill have formed their own sort of rehabilitative fire team during their stay at Walter Reed. "We joke with each other, or say, `Hey, we gotta catch up with him,'" Watson said. "It makes us work that much harder."
When they're working painfully to build their upper body strength, they push each other to work even harder. When one is working on his balance on the parallel bars, the others are watching.
Marines have always taken a perverse pride in their grueling daily doses of group PT, or physical training. It binds them together. And the equation hasn't changed much just because they're wounded. Now, the initials "PT" stand for "physical therapy."
"It's the same thing, just a different setting," Watson said. "It's just a different group of guys you're with now."
Even for Marines like Schuring, who is getting rehabilitation through Beaumont Hospital near his home in Farmington Hills, Mich., thoughts of his fellow Marines in Iraq are never far away while he's sweating and groaning through painful physical therapy. Teamwork is something the former center on the Hope College football team in west Michigan has understood for a long time.
The ceramic plate in his body armor saved him from the shot to his back. His Kevlar helmet helped dissipate the shot to his head, which didn't penetrate his skull. And the bullet that hit his right thigh missed the bone.
But the one that hit his left thigh almost cost him his leg, shattering his thighbone in three up near his hip. An infection nearly did the rest until it was brought under control by antibiotics.
His doctors expect he'll make a full recovery - thanks to physical therapy sessions it would take a Marine to love.
None of the wounded men is willing to let his injuries define him. None expressed bitterness. All said they would rejoin their units tomorrow, if they could.
Schuring, whose mission was training Iraqi soldiers, was especially emphatic.
"We were doing good things there in Ramadi - I mean phenomenal things," Schuring said. "The Iraqi army, the soldiers, they're the Iraqi heroes. They're not the best soldiers in the world, but they're trying."
The wounded men have had time while convalescing to process their experiences. They've met cabinet members and generals and members of Congress. Some have gone to the Super Bowl, and Watson was personally introduced to his baseball heroes, the St. Louis Cardinals, by the president of the United States.
But that's all gravy. It's everyday life that's a gift to these survivors.
"This puts everything into perspective," Lockwood said. "You get blown up, and all of a sudden the type of rims you have on your car, that doesn't mean anything. Your family, your friends, that's the stuff that's important. That's what keeps you going."
Perspective can be difficult, on the other hand, when you get news like this:Marine Corporal David Emery Jr. of the Battalion Landing Team of the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit was serving in Iraq. David, aka "DJ", graduated high school in 2003. He is married to the beautiful lass in the above photo, Leslie, and she is pregnant. DJ's unit was extended past their rotation date of January 1st and he was hoping to make it home in time for his child's birth.
On February 7th, 2007, DJ was at a checkpoint near a crowded place when a terrorist walked up to the Marines. DJ's Battalion Sergeant Major, Joseph Ellis (a recon Marine of 23 years), suspected that a bomber was approaching and put himself between the bomber and his Marines.
The bomber quickly detonated himself, instantly killing Sergeant Major Ellis. The Sergeant Major's sacrifice absorbed enough of the blast to barely keep DJ from being killed. DJ was hit hard in his abdomen - an artery was cut causing kidney failure - both legs and one arm were shattered, and, in fact, his wounds were so severe that doctors didn't think that he'd make it. They had him on a respirator, fighting infection, fever, kidney failure and other problems for a time before he stabilized enough (just barely) to make the flight to Germany where his parents and wife met him. While still unconscious, his family kept telling him to fight. Then, on the 18th, DJ was strong enough to make the trip from Germany to the US (Bethesda).
DJ had a tough surgery yesterday. His prognosis is hour to hour so prayers at anytime are needed.
As always, the military family is rallying around their own. Matt has more on how you can help Leslie and DJ. MaryAnn has lots more information on DJ and Sgt. Major Ellis, and Fuzzybear Lioness also has a beautiful post on the Sergeant Major:[He] was always "healthy and alive," a perfectionist in what he did and who made anything seem possible. "I always thought he wouldn't be one of those people who wouldn't come home," Rachael Ellis, 20, said Monday. "In my eyes, he was superman."
...With additional education, Ellis could have moved up even further, Rachael said, but as an officer, he wouldn't have been as hands-on. She said all three of his tours of duty to Iraq weren't mandatory; he volunteered.
"He just wanted to make a difference," she said. "Anytime he was asked to go somewhere, even times when he didn't have to, he would. He wanted to be there for his troops."
DJ's father has the last word:"I think of him as a hero," David Emery said of Ellis, a 40-year-old Marine from Ashland, Ohio. "He saw [the suicide bomber] pushing his way through the crowd. He moved to get this guy and probably saved my son's life."
As they handed that folded flag to Joe Ellis' wife, I wonder what was going through her mind?
There are so many things we fear, we who remain behind. Mostly, we manage to put those thoughts out of our minds and go on with our daily lives. But they are never far from us.
They hover in the back of our minds, circling slowly like fireflies on a summer evening until, unbidden, one alights every now and then in an unguarded moment in our consciousness. Perhaps when we're driving the car at sunset and our minds wander aimlessly, or when that sappy country song comes on the radio. Why do they continue to fight when so many in this country appear willing to have given up on everything we believe in?
What kind of nation plays foolish games with the lives of its soldiers, calling for war one moment and the next claiming they were deceived? One moment calling for troop withdrawals and the next saying we need to attack?
Where do these men, these Marines, get the strength to continue to defend such a people?
There are so many things I do not understand. But in the end, it does not matter that I understand them. It only matters to me that my husband understands them, and as long as he does that is enough for me. All I know is that, like so many others, hears a distant trumpet calling him to faraway places.
And all I know is what I hear echoing in my ears. I imagine every Marine wife hears something quite similar in the silent hours of the night. I imagine Joe Ellis' wife hears it still, and Leslie Emery.
How can we help but love such men?
I'll be yours until the sun doesn't shine
Till time stands still
Until the winds don't blow
When today is just a memory to me
I'll still be loving
I'll still be loving you
Posted by Cassandra at November 5, 2009 08:12 AM
TrackBack URL for this entry:
2007? wow, it's hard to believe it's been two and a half years since that happened.
Feels like so much longer than that.
Posted by: Carrie at November 5, 2009 11:50 AM
Once again, I bid each and every person a most wonderful and glorious day. I would also that the blessings or our Lord, and Savior, Jesus Christ the Son of the Living God rest up all of those who read this message. That is, those who read each line from top to bottom.
Why I put it in this way is: I know those who have a deep antichrist spirit will skip over, or drop out, once it become obvious, this being a Christ glorifying message, rather than being a message that puts “Jesus the Christ” and all that He stands for down.
Yes, sad but true just the same, we seemingly move into more of a Christ denying…also a Christ hating society day by day. However, the truth of the matter is: this should not be a surprising issue for believers. For just like within this world that our God of love has created, He has given us both light and darkness. As we each know there is a time for both. The light makes it more convenient for working and getting things done, whereas, darkness makes it more convenient for rest from all the work we’ve accomplished during the daylight hours, as all will know.
Within the spiritual realm it is pretty much the same. The difference being: now we’re to work while it is yet day, in preparation of our soul’s salvation. The night (which, much of it, we’re now within.) is for checking out…as a person would do when in preparations for making a long trip. For they sure don’t want to forget anything. Also making preparations for a long, long trip, the electricity is soon to be turned off.. After which, they’ll not be able to see anything, therefore making it very hard to stumble around in the darkness making preparations to make their departure.
To make a long, long, story short folks…we’re now within the preparedness hour. What I’m saying in shorter words…will we now get ready…put differently…will we now set our house in order…or, will we chose, by not doing so, to be left behind?
I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.
Posted by: William Dunigan at November 5, 2009 03:18 PM
"It only matters to me that my husband understands them..."
I wonder if it's not the he understands them so much as he understands himself. He is committed to protect and serve his country and his family with honor and courage because of what he is.
He is a Marine.
The fact that he is able to refrain from whistling while packing for deployment means he is a Marine Officer.
Posted by: DL Sly at November 5, 2009 04:41 PM
The fact that he is able to refrain from whistling while packing for deployment means he is a Marine Officer.
Too true! It's a good thing I'm not insecure or I'd have a complex :p
Posted by: Cassandra at November 5, 2009 04:59 PM
Greetings to one and all: In that most precious name. That name which is above every name, the name: "Jesus"
There's tremendous power in that name. I'd suppose we'll never fully realize all that can truly be accomplished, by us simply calling out that name in true faith.
There's an old, old, gospel song that goes like this: Faith in the Father, faith in the Son, faith in the Holy Spirit, great victories are won. Demons will tremble and sinners will awake, faith in Jehovah will anything shake.
For you who have never come into this realization, if you're reading this, just give him a welcome into your heart and life. You will both feel and see an awesome difference. You will have also purchased the ticket to heaven (by accepting, therefore making him welcome to come into your life. You will also sup from His cup that contains living water. (As did the woman at the well of Bethesda.) John 4:10
Your brother in Christ Jesus, who is both our Lord, and Savior.
Posted by: Willaim Dunigan at December 30, 2009 08:02 PM