U.S. Marine Corps / Navy Cross
Badly outnumbered by violent insurgents, he led the rescue
of five trapped fellow Marines
As he lay exhausted and barely conscious on the blood-soaked stone floor of a Fallujah house, his lungs begging for oxygen that had been sucked out by a grenade’s concussion, Cpl. Jeremiah Workman thought the end was near.
“I felt like I was in a dream,” Workman recalled. “The last of my strength was draining away. I tried to get up but fell face down in the broken glass on the floor. My arms and hands were covered with blood. I thought I was dying. It just got black, and I thought that was death.”
As he was drifting off, Workman was awakened by the voice of Maj. Todd Desgrosseilliers, the battalion executive officer, who was dragging him to safety. “Let’s go, Marine!” Desgrosseilliers shouted. “We’re getting out NOW!”
The date was Dec. 23, 2004. Just hours earlier, Workman’s unit, Mortar Platoon, Weapons Company, 5th Marine Regiment, 3rd Battalion, was mopping up, searching for weapons caches and booby traps in a Fallujah neighborhood after U.S. forces had subdued insurgents in Operation Phantom Fury, the second Battle of Fallujah.
Suddenly, shots rang out from a house across the street, and gray and white smoke of gunfire poured from windows on the second floor. Five Marines from Workman’s platoon had entered a house defended by an estimated 40 heavily armed insurgents. Badly outnumbered, the Marines were trapped.
“I said, ‘We gotta go get those guys,’ ” Workman said.
Workman and seven others in the squad entered the house and were met by a hail of bullets from the second floor. “The wall behind the staircase was just about falling apart from all the bullets that were shooting around,” he said.
Making his way up the staircase, Workman spied the trapped Marines but had to retreat back down. Trying again, the would-be rescuers advanced up the stairs.
“We fought back and forth,” Workman recalled. “There was a lot of firepower coming out of the bedrooms.” Then a grenade bounced out of a bedroom and toward the Marines.
Workman raised his leg to shield himself. “I remember there was a lot of flame that lit the room,” he said. “I felt like someone hit me in the leg with a ball bat. I heard guys yell. They had been hit.”
Though peppered with shrapnel, the Marines kept fighting until they ran out of ammunition and had to leave the house, again under heavy fire.
“Marines were running back to get ammo,” Workman said. “That’s when I saw one Marine stagger out of the neighboring yard. He looked a zombie, covered with blood. He fell to his knees and just fell over.” The Marine had jumped out of the house.
Workman pulled the man on his back and half-carried, half-dragged him out of the yard, evading sniper fire richocheting off the sidewalk.
“I dragged him about 75 yards,” Workman said, “but it felt like 200 miles. I was already dehydrated. I was just hurting.”
Workman wrote afterward that his stomach felt “like I’ve got the worst case of the flu imaginable. We’ve been fighting for over two hours in hundred-plus heat, running and fighting, getting grenaded and suffering from smoke inhalation. I’ve never felt this level of complete fatigue, utter exhaustion.”
At the casualty collection point, Workman spied two dead Marines lying in the back of a vehicle, one of them from his squad. It was the first time he had seen a dead Marine.
“It was like someone flipped a switch on me. I went into a rage,” Workman said. “I wanted to kill every insurgent in the house.”
Workman and three others rushed the house a third time. Again they were met with a slam of automatic weapons fire, and this time three of the insurgents charged into the Marines. The jihadists were repelled, peppered with rifle fire.
But out of the smoke came yet another grenade, which knocked Workman down. Exhausted, dazed and dehydrated, Workman thought his days were done until Desgrosseilliers shook him and pulled him up.
“He grabbed me by my Kevlar, ’cause I really couldn’t move,” Workman said. I was puking all over – you know, blood – because I was so dehydrated. He grabbed me by my helmet and dragged me out of the house.”
Two of the trapped Marines were killed in the fight. Their bodies were dropped out of the house by Marines who escaped by jumping out after them. A third Marine, from Workman’s unit, also was killed.
With the Marines evacuated, an arriving M1 tank finally blasted the second floor of the house, and aerial bombs finished leveling the building.
Workman’s actions that day contributed to the killing of 24 insurgents and the rescue of the survivors, the Marine Corps said when it awarded him the Navy Cross, its second-highest award for combat valor.
He has since written a book, “Shadow of the Sword,” recounting the fight and his battles with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the years that have followed.
James C. Roberts is president of the American Veterans Center. From 1968 to 1971 he served as a naval officer aboard the destroyer USS Henderson.
U.S. Marine Corps / Navy Cross
Born Aug. 26, 1983, in Marion, Ohio.
Wife, Jessica; son, Devon, 2.
Joined the Marines on Aug. 28, 2000, and deployed to Iraq on Sept. 10, 2004. Was assigned to Mortar Platoon, Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat team one, 1st Marine Division.
WHAT HE DID
Repeatedly charged into a house where insurgents had trapped men from his unit. Battled for three hours to rescue the Marines, carrying one to safety despite his own injuries.
WHERE HE IS NOW
Living in Quantico, Va., where he is a staff sergeant with the Wounded Warrior Regiment.
WHY HE JOINED THE MARINES
"My sophomore or junior year sitting in the cafeteria at school and I saw the Marine recruiters come in for the first time. You can tell when those guys come in, everyone stops what they are doing. I was just mesmerized. Each time they came back I would pay attention. It was the way they walked, the way they carried themselves, the way they talked ... it was impressive to me."
Iraq / Fallujah