CAMP HURRICANE POINT, AR RAMADI, Iraq -- The BB-sized piece of shrapnel that’s imbedded in Jose O. Martinez’s left cheek just above his jaw is a war souvenir and humbling reminder that things could have turned out worse for him on the night of June 11.
“I feel lucky that the injury wasn’t so bad,” said 22-year-old Martinez from El Paso, Texas.
Martinez was on a late-night mission in the Al Anbar capital with his fellow Marines with 4th Platoon, Company W, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment when he narrowly escaped death.
His platoon responded to a request for assistance from soldiers who’d been targeted by an improvised explosive device, Martinez explained. The soldiers had engaged the insurgents who detonated the IED while fleeing the scene in a vehicle, which was disabled before they could escape.
“We went out to get the car the (insurgents) were in and haul it back here,” recalled the machine gunner.
Martinez and his comrades drove to the site in a convoy of humvees, found the car and commenced to tow it back to camp. Martinez was riding in the turret of the lead humvee manning an M2.50 Caliber Machine Gun at the time.
“I was posting security from the turret as we started heading back,” recalled the 2000 Bel Air High School graduate. “I’m the lead gunner, and just as we started to leave I stood up in the turret and looked back to make sure the other vehicles were following us.”
Seconds later another IED exploded 10 feet from Martinez’s vehicle while he was standing and exposed.
“The IED blew up and I was hit,” he remembered. “The blast knocked me out, and I fell inside (the cabin of the humvee). I was only out for a couple of seconds, though.”
Luckily, the turret’s armor stopped most of the shrapnel from hitting Martinez.
“I was hit in the face, neck and the back of the head,” he said. “I was bleeding, but it wasn’t a lot.”
Martinez was immediately taken to the Battalion Aid Station aboard his camp where he was treated by Navy corpsmen.
“They removed most of the shrapnel, but I still have a piece here,” he said, rubbing his left jaw. “It was too deep and they couldn’t get it. They told me that it would eventually work its way out.”
Martinez phoned home to his wife, Veronica, and told her what had happened.
“She cried because she thought it was (a bad injury), but I told her it wasn’t anything big,” he said. “She was happy I was OK.”
He called his parents Angel and Silvia Martinez, of El Paso, and told them the news, too.
On Aug. 2, Martinez was awarded a Purple Heart during a ceremony here held in his honor.
“I’m not so much proud that I got the award,” he said, “but I feel lucky that I’m all right.”
Martinez is in Iraq a second time with 1st Battalion, 5th Marines in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He made it through the fighting in Fallujah unscathed.
And about that little piece of shrapnel still stuck in his face?
“I want it out because sometimes it bothers me, like when I sleep on it,” he said. “I’ll wake up and it’ll be sore in that spot. The straps on my helmet irritate it, too.”