MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - -- Ping, ping, ping. Over the deafening blare of automatic weapons fire, Portland, Oregon native, Cpl. James A. Bedell heard the device as it bounced off the concrete floor. With only four seconds to spare, he took cover and braced for impact. He didn’t need to see the grenade to know what was about to happen. Two months later, Bedell received a Purple Heart in a ceremony here June 9 for wounds received in action at the Abu Gharib prison in Iraq.
As a scout observer with Battery E, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, it is Bedell’s job to call for artillery fire on targets. He is the “yell” in the saying, “you yell, we shell.” But, when word came down from the regiment requesting another infantry battalion for deployment, Battery E answered the call and was transformed into a provisional rifle company. Therefore, instead of his primary Military Occupational Specialty, Bedell’s job while stationed at the prison was that of an infantryman.
“As a squad leader, I was personally responsible for the lives of 12 Marines. It was my job to maintain accountability at all times,” said Bedell.
One of his squad’s missions was to provide security for the camp. Marines on watch in the guard towers were on a rotating shift, four hours on and eight hours off. He had just posted two of his Marines for guard duty and was on his way to the mess hall when a rocket propelled grenade hit one of the outer walls.
“We quickly headed back up to tower four. It had been hit by a vehicle-born IED and was taking heavy small arms fire. As my A (assistant)-driver was providing suppressive fire with the SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon), I was saying the diddy out loud. Every three seconds, ‘I’m up, he sees me, I’m down’,” said Bedell.
In the midst of all the rounds being exchanged, one ricocheted off the wall and found Bedell’s right index finger.
“I wanted the Doc to get it bandaged while I was still in shock; it wouldn’t hurt so bad that way. I wanted him to hurry so I could get back in the fight,” said Bedell.
With all the commotion, it took Bedell a few moments to realize that there were too many Marines in the tower. Just as he was telling them to vacate, he heard the “ping, ping, ping” of the grenade.
“Pretty much everything after that is a blur to me. I’m told that after the explosion, I somehow made my way down from the tower. I was then taken to the casualty collection point inside the prison,” said Bedell.
From there, Bedell was given some morphine for the pain before being loaded onto a helicopter and flown to Baghdad. Nearly a month had passed before Bedell was then transferred to the United States for recovery at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
“I had some physical therapy on my left hand, which I fractured in two places after the blast. There was also some muscular atrophy in my legs from having been in bed for so long. And, I had some speech therapy because a piece of shrapnel went through my right eye and into the speech part of my brain,” said Bedell.
Even though the Purple Heart is not an award sought by Marines, it is one that is highly respected. While he recognizes and respects its significance, Bedell knows precisely where his priorities lie.
“The award itself isn’t nearly as important as the way my squad performed under pressure. You don’t need to be nervous about getting injured. When the time comes, your training will kick in and you will do what needs to get done,” said Bedell.