Navy-Marine Corps MARS in Vietnam

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Sgt. Jarrett Kraft

 A hero's day Marine awarded Purple Heart and Navy Cross for bravery in Iraq.

By Denny Boyles / The Fresno Bee
(Updated Friday, May 12, 2006, 5:05 AM)

As Marine Maj. Gen. Richard Natonski read the citation for the nation's second-highest medal for valor, former Marine stood at attention.

As the commander of the 1st Marine Division praised his bravery, Kraft kept his composure, his eyes staring straight ahead. When Natonski called him a hero, Kraft didn't react.

It wasn't until after he received both the Navy Cross and Purple Heart for service in combat in Fallujah, Iraq, that Kraft's composure broke.

Kraft took a microphone and told the crowd of several hundred supporters surrounding him at the California 9/11 Memorial at Pelco, a Clovis video and surveillance systems manufacturer, that he would trade his medals in an instant if it would bring back the three Marines killed that day.

"Throughout the history of the Marines, stuff like what I did has always happened," Kraft said, his voice choked with emotion. "That day I wasn't thinking of medals, I was just doing my job. It's an overwhelming feeling to receive this medal. It is a great honor. But this medal means nothing to me because those Marines are gone."

Kraft read the names of the three Marines killed in combat on Dec. 23, 2004, when his small force of seven Marines discovered more than 40 insurgents hiding in a home, waiting to ambush them.

"There are three Marines I want to express my love for," Kraft said. "Cpl. Raleigh Smith, Lance Cpl. Eric Hillenburg and Lance Cpl. James Phillips. I'll never forget them."

Natonski, who commanded the Marines in Fallujah, said Kraft was honored for the lives he saved that day and his willingness to sacrifice himself for the three who were killed.

"On that day, he put himself in front of other Marines, leading from the front, wounded in the process yet continuing to fight," Natonski said. "Before that day, he had already received a medal for valor. On that day, he showed that he is cut from the same mold as legendary Marines such as Lewis "Chesty" Puller, who five times received the Navy Cross for valor in combat."

Fresno City Council Member Jerry Duncan, Clovis Mayor Nathan Magsig and Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer also were on hand to honor Kraft. Duncan, who presented Kraft with a proclamation from the city, said he was honored to be in Kraft's presence.

"I'm humbled by your heroism," Duncan said. "It's special for me, to just be here with you."

Kraft's award until after his department had offered Kraft a position as a police cadet, said he could not begin to understand the intensity Kraft must have felt during combat.

"I can't help but think of the tremendous amount of love you showed that day for your fellow Marines and your country," Dyer said. "It's an honor for us to have you in our department, and I promise we will do all we can to keep you safe."

Kraft's mother, Karin Yazzie, and other family members were on hand for the ceremony. Yazzie said hearing her son's actions recited was an emotional experience for them all.

"I don't want to know all the facts of what happened that day," Yazzie said. "It broke my heart, what he had to go through both fighting and losing his friends. But you know, that is just like my son, to keep going, no matter what."

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