MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- In 1943, the 2nd Marine Regiment spearheaded the battle to take the Japanese-held Tarawa atoll, a series of islets in the central Pacific, as U.S. forces pressed toward the Land of the Rising Sun. The Corps lost more than 1,100 men as they were cut down by Japanese machine gunners on the shores and beaches, while of the 4,700 Japanese defenders, only 17 survived.
Sixty-three years later, the regiment’s reputation for courage and tenacity under fire continues in the desert and urban battlefields of Iraq, embodied in the fighting spirit of the Marines and sailors who risk their lives everyday fighting in the Global War on Terrorism.
On Jan. 25, eight such warriors with the 2nd Marine Regiment received Purple Heart Medals here Jan. 25 for wounds suffered during combat operations in Iraq throughout the past year. Another was awarded a Navy Achievement Medal with combat distinguishing device.
Presenting the Marines their awards was Col. George P. Garrett, 2nd Marine Division’s chief of staff.
“I want to thank you all on behalf of the commanding general for putting it all on the line,” Garrett said to the assembled Marines after the awards presentation. “We’ve treasured the sacrifices you all have put forth.”
For Marines like Lance Cpl. Matthew Crowe, a squad automatic weapon gunner with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment and one of the Purple Heart recipients, the fight for freedom abroad came at no light cost.
The 19-year-old Ligonier, Penn. native was serving as a vehicle gunner aboard a re-supply convoy Dec. 1, 2005 when his near brush with death occurred. His unit had been operating in Karmah, a city located near Fallujah, Iraq.
“The convoy was hit by an IED (improvised explosive device) while we were coming back, and shrapnel blew through the humvee, hitting me three times in the left leg,” Crowe explained. “Two of the pieces went through and broke my fibula, and I was knocked out from the blast.”
“I woke up, and I saw my leg all mangled up and bleeding,” he continued. “It just felt like we’d been hit out of nowhere.”
Crowe received what medical care he could in Iraq before being rushed back to the U.S. for further treatment.
“I couldn’t walk for the first month,” said Crowe, a 2004 graduate of Ligonier Valley High School who played quarterback for his football team. “It really sucked for that first month, because I was used to being active and running a lot.”
Crowe currently continues to recover from his wounds, and looks forward to continuing his career in the military.
“I think everything will go back to normal,” he stated. “This really hasn’t changed anything. I still have a lot of pride in being a Marine.”
To senior commanders like Garrett, this can-do attitude has and always will be the hallmark of every Marine. The Corps stands resolute to continue the fight on terrorism abroad, he said.
“This generation has stood up to the hardest test the Marine Corps has ever had,” Garrett stated. “It’s something that the whole country is extremely proud of.”