Fallen Warriors Bravery Recalled In Memorial Day Speech
Editor’s Note: With the Fourth of July holiday already upon us, the “Fulton County News” is paying homage to our nation’s military men and women by printing an excerpt of a speech by Lt. Col. George Cutchall. Cutchall recently served as the local Memorial Day keynote speaker during annual tribute services held at Union Church Cemetery and at the courthouse square.
In the excerpt below, Cutchall recaps a 2010 speech delivered in St. Louis by Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John F. Kelly, who recalled the sacrifice made by two Marines in Iraq –Cpl. Jonathan Yale and Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter.
I will leave you with a story about the kind of people that serve today, about the quality of the steel in their backs, about the kind of dedication they bring to our country while they serve in uniform and forever after as veterans.
Three years ago when Lt. General Kelly was the commander of all U.S. and Iraqi forces in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, in fact, the 22nd of April 2008, two Marine infantry battalions, 1/9 “The Walking Dead” and 2/8 were switching out n Ramadi. One battalion in the closing days of their deployment going home very soon, the other just starting its seven-month combat tour. Two Marines, Cpl. Jonathan Yale and Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter, 22 and 20 years old, respectively, one from each battalion, were assuming the watch together at the entrance gate of an outpost that contained a makeshift barracks housing 50 Marines. The same broken-down ramshackle building was also home to 100 Iraqi police in Ramadi, a city until recently he most dangerous city one arth owned by Al Quaeda.
Yale was a dirt- poor mixed-race kid from Virginia with a wife and a daughter, and a mother and sister who lived with him, and he supported them as well. He did this on a yearly salary of less than $23,000. Haerter, on the other hand, was a middleclass, white kid from Long Island. They were from two completely different worlds. Had they not joined the Marines, they would never have met each other, or understand that multiple Americans exist simultaneously, depending on one’s race, education level, economic status, and where you might have been born. But they were Marines, combat Marines, forged in the same crucible of Marine training, and because of this bond they were brothers as close, or closer, than if they were born of the same woman.
The mission orders they received from the sergeant squad leader I am sure went something like this: “OK you two clowns, stand this post and let no unauthorized personnel or vehicle pass. You clear?”
I am also sure Yale and Haerter than rolled their eyes and said in unison something like: “Yes, sergeant,” with just enough attitude that made the point without saying the words, “No kidding, sweetheart, we know what we’re doing.” They then relieved two other Marines on watch and took up their post at the entry control point of Joint Security Station Nasser in the Sophia section of Ramadi, Al Anbar, Iraq.
A few minutes later a large blue truck turned down the alley way, perhaps 60-70 yards in length, and sped its way through the serpentine of concrete jersey walls. The truck stopped just short of where the two were posted and detonated killing them both catastrophically. Twenty four brick masonry houses were damaged or destroyed. A mosque 100 yards away collapsed. The truck’s engine came to rest 200 yards away, knocking most of a house down before it stopped.
Our explosives experts estimated the blast was made of 2,000 pounds of explosives. Two died, and because these two young infantrymen didn’t have it in the DNA to run from danger, they saved 150 of their Iraqi and American brothers-in-arms. When General Keltz read the situation report about the incident a few hours after it happened, he called the regimental commander for details, as something about this struck him as different.
Marines dying or being seriously wounded is commonplace in combat. We expect Marines regardless of rank or military occupational specialty to stand their ground and do their duty, and even die in the process, if that is what the mission takes. But this just seemed different. The regimental commander had just returned from the site and he agreed, but reported that there were no American witnesses to the event, just Iraqi police. The general figured if there was any chance of finding out what actually happened and then to decorate the two Marines to acknowledge their bravery, he would have to do it as a combat award that requires two eye-witnesses and he figured the bureaucrats back in Washington would never buy Iraqi statements. If the proposed award had any chance at all, it had to come under the signature of a general officer.
Lt. General Kelly travelled to Ramadi the next day and spoke individually to a halfdozen Iraqi police, all of whom told the same story. The blue truck turned down into the alley and immediately sped up as it made its way through the serpentine. They all said, “We knew immediately hat was going on as soon as the two Marines began firing.” The Iraqi police then said that some of them also fired, and then to a man, ran for safety just prior to the explosion. All survived. Many were injured, some seriously. One of the Iraqis elaborated and with tears welling up said, “They’d run like any normal man would to save his life.” “What he didn’t know until then, he said, “and what he learned that very instant, was that Marines are not normal.” Choking past the emotion, he said, “Sir, in the name of God, no sane man would have stood there and done what they did. No sane man. They saved us all.”
What the general didn’t know at the time, and only learned a couple of days later after he wrote a summary and submitted both Yale and Haerter for posthumous Navy Crosses (second highest award), was that one of our security cameras, damaged initially in the blast, recorded some of the suicide attack. It happened exactly as the Iraqis had described it. It took exactly six seconds from when the truck entered the alley until it detonated.
You can watch the last six seconds of their young lives. Putting myself in their heads, I suppose it took about a second for the two Marines to separately come to the same conclusion about what was gong on once the truck came into their view at the far end of the alley. Exactly no time to talk it over, or call the sergeant to ask what they should do. Only enough time to take half an instant and think about what the sergeant told them to do only a few minutes before: “Let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles pass.” The two Marines had about five seconds left to live.
It took maybe another two seconds for them to present their weapons, take aim, and open up. By this time the truck was halfway through the barriers and gaining speed the whole time. Here, the recording shows a number of Iraqi police, some of whom had fired their AKs, now scattering like the normal and rational men they were some running right past the Marines. They had three seconds left to live.
For about two seconds more, the recording shows the Marines’ weapons firing nonstop, the truck’s windshield exploding into shards of glass as their rounds take it apart and tore into the body of the son-of-a-bitch who was trying to get past them and kill their brother – American and Iraqi-bedded down in the barracks, who were totally unaware of the fact that their lives at that moment depended entirely on two Marines standing their ground. If they had been aware, they would have known they were safe because two Marines stood between them and a suicide bomber.
The recording shows the truck careening to a stop immediately in front of the two Marines. In all of the instantaneous violence, Yale and Haerter never hesitated. They never even started to step aside. They never even shifted their weight. With their feet spread shoulder width apart, they leaned into the danger, firing as fast as they could work their weapons. They had only one second left to live.
The truck explodes, the camera goes blank. Two young men go to their God.
Six seconds. Not enough time to think about their families, their country, their flag, or about their lives or their deaths, but more than enough time for two very brave young men to do their duty into eternity. That is the kind of people who are on watch all over the world today for you.
We Marines belive that God gave America the greatest gift he could bestow to man while he lived on this earth – freedom.
We also believe he gave us another gift nearly as precious – our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Marines to safeguard that gift and guarantee no force on this earth can ever steal it away.
It has been my distinct honor to have been with you here today. Rest assured our America, this experiment in democracy started over two centuries ago, will forever remain the “land of the free and home of the brave” so long as we never run out of tough young Americans who are willing to look beyond their own self-interest and comfortable lives, and go into the darkest and most dangerous places on earth to hunt down and kill those would do us harm.
This is why we celebrate Memorial Day and why we must forever remember those that gave the last bit of life to ensure our freedoms.
Thank you and may God bless America and you