Navy-Marine Corps MARS in Vietnam

Use your Browsers Back Key to Continue.

Gallant service has reward
Now-retired Marine receives 3rd-highest honor from Corps

 Keith Matheny
The Desert Sun
August 14, 2006

Wyatt Waldron enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 17, on Sept. 12, 2001.

"Sept. 11 kind of felt like a slap in the face to me," he said. "I felt like it was my duty to go and try to do something."

Nearly five years and three combat tours in Iraq later, Waldron has achieved a distinction few, if any, others serving in that conflict can cite: three medals for combat valor.

Waldron, 22, retired from the Marines in February as a lance corporal. But he returned to his Twentynine Palms base on Tuesday for the latest and most prestigious of his honors, the awarding of the Silver Star, the third-highest military decoration that can be awarded to a member of the U.S. Armed Forces for valor.

"In the Marine Corps, medals and stuff like this are not individually earned; your team earns them," he said.

"It's definitely an honor to even be nominated for (the Silver Star), and to be awarded it is really cool."

Waldron, who served in the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, is one of only 43 enlisted Marines to have earned a Silver Star in the Iraq campaign.

During earlier combat tours in Iraq the Quartz Hill High School graduate also earned the Navy Commendation Medal with a Combat "V" for valor and a Navy Achievement Medal with a Combat-V.

'Father's Day Massacre'

Waldron earned his Silver Star for his actions during a firefight in Fallujah on June 19, 2005, that later came to be known as "The Father's Day Massacre."


Serving in his battalion's weapons company, Waldron was leading a combined anti-armor team of 17 Marines, a forward element doing route and area reconnaissance.

"During route recons you're looking for anything suspicious - spare tires on the road, parked vehicles with nobody in them, stuff that can be used as explosives," Waldron said.

Waldron was in the first of a line of four Humvees about 6 a.m when he spotted an improvised explosive device, or IED, along the roadside.

He had spotted the first in what's called the daisy chain, a string of linked IEDs.

"Once the convoy gets inside the kill zone, they detonate it, and try to blow up as many vehicles as they can," Waldron said.

The device exploded, signaling insurgents to begin an ambush on the U.S. convoy. From a berm to Waldron's right, insurgents opened up with machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire.

"All you could see was muzzle flashes for as far as your eye could see, about a half-mile," he said.

Quick thinking

Waldron's experiences from two previous combat tours in Iraq led him to a snap decision that may have saved his and his team members' lives. Virtually all of the enemy's fire was coming from his right. To the left was a "nice, paved road," he said.

"They put all this firepower on this one side," he said. "What do they want us to do? They wanted to push us down this one road. So I did the exact opposite."

Having identified four heavy machine gun bunkers, Waldron ordered a counter-attack, heading into the heart of the enemy's fire.

Two of the Humvees, mounted with machine guns, remained on the road providing covering fire, allowing Waldron's vehicle and another to move on the insurgents. Waldron and some other Marines in the team dismounted and continued the charge on foot.

"We ran up throwing grenades, pretty much everything we had," he said.

The Marines were within "a couple of feet" of the insurgents, pushing them back.

"We went from being on the defense to now on the offense," Waldron said. "We now had them on their toes and they were starting to retreat."

The firefight lasted two hours. Afterward, the Marines learned the road the insurgents were trying to force them down was loaded with "triple-stacked IEDs, mines and an explosive-packed vehicle," Waldron said.

"This was really well thought-out," he said.

The firefight left 30 insurgents dead. Another 30 were detained after showing up at local hospitals immediately afterward with gunshots and shrapnel wounds, Waldron said.

The Marines had no casualties.

"I was blessed to have my guys, almost all of them, together all three tours," Waldron said. "We all think alike. They all did such an excellent job."

The harrowing nature of the skirmish didn't dawn on Waldron and the other Marines until later that evening, after hours of debriefing.

"Everybody was like, 'Holy (expletive),'" he said. "They were praying to somebody that night."

Settling down

Waldron stayed in Iraq until the end of August 2005. He returned to Twentynine Palms before leaving the Marine Corps in February.

"I'm engaged and have a baby on the way, due in October," he said. "I was blessed enough to go and do three tours in Iraq. Doing a fourth one, I think, would be pressing my luck a little bit."

Now living in the Palmdale area, Waldron said he plans to fulfill his dream of going into law enforcement with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in about a month.

Michael Lerp, past commandant of the Marine Corps League detachment serving the Inland Empire, and himself a Navy corpsman who served as a combat medic in Vietnam, put Waldron's medals for valor in perspective.

"Medals are usually given to somebody who goes above and beyond the call of duty. But Marines are expected to do that without getting an award at all.

"For a Marine to get that high of honors, that's really saying something about his bravery under fire," Lerp said.

Back to Top