September 10, 2004
Monday, September 13 2004 @ 11:58 AM CDT
By Gidget Fuentes
Times staff writer
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Two months after they returned home from Iraq,
three Marine infantrymen on Friday received Bronze Star medals for heroism
during the 1st Marine Division’s initial fight for Fallujah last spring.
Hundreds of men with 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment
gathered on the sun-splashed grinder outside battalion headquarters for
the ceremony, the first of several expected in the coming months with the
approvals of medals for combat actions.
Two of the Bronze Star medals — which were presented with “V” devices
denoting valor — honor two corporals with Bravo Company who participated
in a 90-minute firefight and daring rescue April 13 of a platoon pinned
down deep inside the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah. The third medal
praises the April 5 actions of a squad leader who fought and led his men
through a barrage of enemy fire, despite his own serious shrapnel wounds
from a roadside bomb that killed four men in his vehicle.
On April 13, an initial mission to resupply Bravo Company troops got
pinned down by enemy fire. Part of 2nd Platoon saddled up to respond,
climbing into two amphibious assault vehicles as escorts for the mission.
But they quickly came under intense fire and, amid ensuing fire and smoke,
one amtrac split off and wandered down a road across friendly lines and
into an insurgent neighborhood.
“They went into the heart of darkness,” said Lt. Col. Brennan T. Byrne,
the battalion’s proud commander.
Four M1 Abrams tanks led a rescue force to retrieve the ill-fated amtrac,
afire with its crew chief mortally wounded inside and spilling columns of
smoke 700 meters inside enemy lines. By the end of the rescue mission,
close-air support and tank fire killed more than 100 enemy fighters.
“It was a hellacious fight,” said Byrne, who credits their actions to
saving the life of 1st Lt. Christopher Ayres, the platoon commander who
was gravely wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade.
But it was a fight that spurred acts of courage and bravery.
Deep in the bowels of an angry neighborhood brimming with armed fighters,
Cpl. Ronnie Garcia, a squad leader with Bravo Company’s second
platoon, kicked in the door of a house to shelter the platoon, which he
later led to safety when the rescue force arrived.
Cpl. Bruno J. Romero, the
machine gun squad leader with Bravo Company’s second platoon, laid
suppressive fire from the street and roof of the house. And when he ran
out of ammunition, he grabbed the pistol of a wounded corpsman and fire at
The third Bronze Star with V awarded Friday went to
Cpl. Brandon J.
Berhowgoll for the courage
and “zealous initiative” he took April 5 when, as a squad leader, he
ignored his own wounds to battle enemy fighters and lead his men to safety
through a barrage of fire.
Berhowgoll was leading his squad with Charlie Company on a routine patrol
when their vehicles came under heavy fire from enemy machineguns, small
arms and RPGs after an improvised explosive device killed four men in his
vehicle. Despite his wounds, and under enemy fire that split his squad,
Berhowgoll and another Marine crossed 200 meters to retrieve the rest of
his men and get them to safety and to medical aid.
Three other Marines with 1/5 also received combat awards on Sept 10:
• 1st Lt. David R. Denial,
a fire support team leader with Charlie Company’s weapons platoon,
received the Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal, with “V,” for “heroic
achievement” by coordinating sniper, mortar and other fires during combat
actions in Fallujah from April 18-27. On April 21, Denial’s team killed 10
enemy fighters, destroyed two enemy vehicles and cut off enemy forces from
reconstituting and counterattacking U.S. forces.
• 1st Lt. Stephen F. Shaw,
a platoon commander with Charlie Company, received the Navy-Marine Corps
Achievement Medal, with Combat “V,” for “heroic achievement in the
superior performance of his duties.” In nearly four months in Iraq, Shaw
led his men through three firefights, more than 75 combat patrols and two
cordon-and-search operations, many in and around Fallujah, and he helped
develop links with Iraqi police forces.
Also, the battalion awarded Capt. Chris A. Graham, a helicopter pilot now
attached to the battalion, with an Air Medal (with five strike/flight
awards) he earned for “meritorious achievement” while deployed in 2003
with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 268.