DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
June 20, 1995

FRONT AND CENTER UNSUNG HEROES

Missing last week at the White House event honoring Scott O'Grady were the Marines who snatched the Air Force captain out of the jaws of the Serbian dogs of war. As I watched on CNN, I kept thinking any minute now Bill Clinton would do one of his aw-shucks-folks numbers and say to the American people, "Now ah'd like ya'll to meet Captain O'Grady's heroes," and before you could comb George Stephanopolis' hair, out would march the 57 Marines and Navy corpsmen who made Mission Impossible possible.

An Army sergeant summed up the 8 June rescue: "O'Grady did what he had to do to stay alive. The Marines went in to do what they're trained to do, but the risks they took were life and death high."

It was dark when the rescue force's choppers lifted off the deck of the USS Kearsarge and headed for the Bosnian badlands. Enroute to where O'Grady's location had been fixed, they joined an awesome NATO air armada.

Forty-two warriors, faces camouflaged, weapons locked and loaded and guts churning, sat aboard two choppers flying at treetop level. Here were the cutting edge of America's ultimate 911. Their protection from the thousands of automatic weapons and missiles held by brutal Serbs below was the dime-thin skin of the chopper's belly.

Service to Country and Corps, pride, spirit and iron discipline are what cause these Marines to do what they do. It's certainly not the pay. The lowest ranking Marine's wages on this adventure was less per hour than he could have made serving burgers at McDonalds, and if he had a wife back home, chances are she'd be making it through the month on food stamps.

Escorting the choppers were three Marine Cobra gun ships and four Marine Harrier jet fighters. The Cobra pilots made radio contact with O'Grady, and guided the choppers into a fog covered field, cluttered with trees and stumps. Grunts bolted out of the first chopper and secured the perimeter. As the second chopper landed, O'Grady hightailed it from the edge of the woods and climbed aboard.

With parade ground precision, the Marines withdrew from their security positions, reboarded their chopper and then lifted off. Not a shot had been fired and the flawless ballet of arms was executed in less time than it takes to lace up a pair of boots the morning after payday.

Twenty minutes out of the landing zone the proverbial stuff hit the fan. The Marines had kicked an ant hill hard and the nasties were in a stinging frenzy. Serb missiles corkscrewed through the sky and automatic weapons fire pinged off the choppers' rotary blades, slamming into both troop carriers.

Sgt. Maj. Angel Castro took a slug in the back; being a hard warrior, he didn't flinch, but continued to look after O'Grady and his Marines as they got the hell out of a very hot spot in the Serb sky. Fortunately, Castro's canteen stopped the bullet, and the only vital fluid he lost, so I'm told, was his water supply.

Commander-in-Chief Clinton and much of the press ignored these gallant men, concentrating instead on modest, Will Rogers-likable O'Grady, who, I'm sure, would want you to know their names:

Martin Berndt, Chris Gunther, Angel Castro, Anthony Barber, Gregory Hare, Zbigniew Wierzel, Derek Brown, Nicholas Hall, James Jenkins, Glenn Kirst, Dwayne Koceja, Todd Moulder, Scott Mykleby, Paul Oldenburg, Scott Pfister, William Tarbutton, Ian Walsh, Paul Fortunato, Chris Cottrill, Rashon Bennett, John Brokos, Robert Brooks, Paul Bruce, Michael Coats, Frederick Dasse, C.S. Faircloth, Bart Forry, Andrzej Gawrys, Jackie Hunt, Ernest Johnston, Justin Lewis, Justin Lindsey, Daniel Loven, Ryan Maher, Travis Miller, Robert Mooney, Anthony Parham, Michael Pevear, Terry Runyan, Martin Wetterauer, Christopher White, Shawn Williams, Eric Yoerk, Dong Yoo, James Adams, John Evans, Douglas Flanagan, Glenn Miller, Timothy Oberst, G.E. Coleman, Thomas Hillesheim, Andrew Sagarius, John Sprague, Steven Smith, Aaron Kahler, Michael Ogden, Harold Blot, John Sisson, Ronald Walkerwicz, James Wright, Howard Hiatt.

A patriotic reader of this column in South Florida is sending each of these heroes a choice steak. If you want to join the celebration, here's the address of these special men: 3/8th Marines, 24th MEU, Unit 82219, FPO AE 09502.