Story by Beth Zimmerman Marine Corps Times staff writer
RICHMOND, Va. – For more than a year, leathernecks with Recruiting Station
Richmond were unaware they were working for a hero - until their
commanding officer received the nation’s third-highest award for combat
Major John “J.D.” Harrill III was awarded the silver star at RS Richmond
Dec. 17 for his actions in Iraq from February to September 2004. While
serving as the operations officer of 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, Harrill
“calmly led the battalion command element and coordinated maneuver of the
battalion’s combat units, while personally neutralizing enemy automatic
weapon and rocket-propelled grenade fire,” his citation read.
According to 2/4’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Paul Kennedy, Harrill’s
actions on almost any given day of his seven-month deployment would have
rated the medal. One such day came less than two months after the
the evening of March 31, 2004, as the command element traveled down the
dark and deserted Main Supply Route, it received incoming small-arms fire
and rocket-propelled grenades. Without hesitation, Harrill ordered his
vehicle to pull over, the report said.
Then, he led the dismounted element of four Marines into machine-gun fire
toward the direction of the insurgents, engaging the enemy along with the
element’s sergeant major.
According to the report, “the two Marines proceeded, without a covering
force, to pursue the fleeing enemy down several unlighted city blocks,”
when the sergeant major shot and killed the RPG gunner, who was aiming
another shot at the Marines.
Five days later, Harrill directed the raid that netted three high-value
targets. Within hours, three companies were engaged in at least eight
separate locations across several miles. “We had platoons and squads
pinned down everywhere,” Harrill said. So he and the forward command post
“fought our way into the city to one of the companies that was heaviest in
contact,” Harrill said.
Once Harrill linked up with the company, he continued directing fire
throughout the city. While command vehicles were setting up security, he
and his exposed vehicle started taking machine- gun fire. Harrill “calmly
and deliberately paused from his duties on the radio and suppressed the
gunner with his own weapon,” the report said.
Harrill directed his small group of support Marines to provide suppressive
fire. His three radio vehicles and one gun truck continued fighting for
nearly seven hours without additional security, while Harrill directed the
actions of six companies, including an Army engineer company, in defeating
yet another battle, on April 10, despite a bombardment of explosives, RPGs
and smallarms fire, Harrill continued directing the maneuvering companies,
“while never breaking positive control over the battle, and with a
seemingly casual disregard toward the fighting raging around him,” the
Harrill’s father, retired Lt. Col. John “Dave” Harrill II, wasn’t
surprised his son received the combat valor award. “I always said he had
ice water in his veins.”
However, his son was much more humble. “I felt confident in the team I was
with and the training that I had, and it all seemed oddly natural,”
“When everything was chaotic, it was the environment I’d been trained to
operate in, with guys I could trust,” he continued.
35-year-old Huntsville, Ala., native adamantly pushed the credit for his
medal to the Marines he led.
John D. Harrill III said the
incident for which he was awarded occurred in April 2004 as Marines were
fighting to prevent the fall of Ramadi, a city of about 450,000 people.
"We were ambushed by thousands of
insurgents," he said. While coordinating his battalion's combat units,
Harrill personally wiped out enemy machine-gun and
rocket-propelled-grenade posts, the commendation noted.
His unit -- the 2nd Battalion, 4th
Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division -- suffered 14 dead and 40 to 60
Marines wounded in that fighting. Enemy losses were estimated between 500
Back to Top