Wounded Marine in iconic Fallujah photo awarded Navy Cross
By Lance Cpl. Patrick J. Floto
| | May 04, 2006
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
Sgt. Maj. Bradley A. Kasal feels he did what any good Marine would’ve done.
That includes taking enemy rifle fire on Nov. 14, 2004, absorbing a grenade blast and refusing medical attention inside Fallujah’s “House of Hell” during Operation Al Fajr (New Dawn).
For his extraordinary heroism and leadership in Fallujah, Iraq, as the Weapons Company first sergeant for 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Kasal was awarded the Navy Cross during a ceremony here Monday.
“The word hero is tossed around pretty loosely these days,” said Maj. Gen. Michael R. Lehnert, Commanding General of Marine Corps Installations West, after awarding Kasal with the Naval service’s second-highest decoration, in front of an audience that included the 1st Marine Division’s past and present commanding generals, Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis and Maj. Gen. Richard F. Natonski, respectively.
”Some may call a basketball player a hero for scoring the winning goal or a celebrity for donating a small portion of their earnings to a good cause, but Kasal is a true American hero.”
When then-1st Sgt. Kasal assisted one of his platoons with an over watch inside Fallujah that day, intense gunfire broke out in an Iraqi home to his immediate front.
Seconds later, Marines were rapidly exiting the building, known as the “House of Hell.” “That house was a death trap,” said Maj. Gen. Lehnert.
“It was set up for one purpose: to kill United States Marines.” Kasal could have easily stayed out of the house.”
When he found out that there were Marines still pinned down inside the infamous house, nothing the insurgents could put on the table would stop him from rescuing his Marines.
“Going in for them was the right thing to do,” said Kasal, 39, who hails from Afton, Iowa. “They’re Marines, and I’m a Marine. We look out for each other.”
Upon entry of the house, Kasal found himself face-to-face with an insurgent who he neutralized at extreme close range. Shortly afterwards, AK-47 gunfire was coming from all directions, and Kasal was hit from behind.
“While I was in that house, I made three life or death decisions,” Kasal said. “I never thought I would live through any of them, but I did what I did to help the other Marines.”
The first decision Kasal made was to expose himself to enemy fire in order to pull another wounded Marine out of the line of fire. Kasal took more enemy fire doing this.
While both Marines were under cover, they assessed their wounds. Both had multiple injuries, but there were only enough bandages for one of them to live.
Kasal made his second decision to forfeit his medical supplies to the other Marine.
“It made more sense to use all of the bandages on one of us then to split the supplies and have us both bleed to death,” Kasal said.
The insurgents deployed a hand grenade to get the Marines out of cover, and it landed within a few feet of the two bleeding Marines.
Kasal then decided to use his own severely wounded body to protect the Marine from shrapnel.
By the time he was carried out of the house by Lance Cpl. Chris Marquez and Lance Cpl. Dan Shaffer as Lucian M. Reed, an Associated Press photographer snapped the iconic photo displayed at Marine Corps installations all over the globe, Kasal had lost approximately 60 percent of his blood from more than 40 shrapnel wounds and seven 7.62 mm AK-47 gunshots.
One day prior to being awarded the Navy Cross Kasal’s father passed away.
However, a live video teleconference feed to Kasal’s hometown provided his mother, family members and friends an opportunity to watch him receive the Navy Cross, be promoted to the rank of sergeant major and reenlist for three years.
“It’s been a very emotional week,” Kasal said. “I am blessed to recover from my injuries, which the doctors thought would never happen, and regain my place in the Marine Corps. I would take the pain of surgeries any day over the pain of being away from my Marines.”