|MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C., June 22, 2007 — A good friend will share the good times with you, but a great friend will share your bad ones.
Lance Cpl. Juan A. Valdez, a Boston native and mortarman with Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, had what may be the greatest friend of his life at his side during one of his greatest times of need.
A Purple Heart Medal ceremony was held here June 8, 2007, to decorate Valdez for wounds he suffered during actions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While on a security patrol through the streets of Al Karmah, Iraq, in 2006, Valdez was struck by a sniper round. This happened near the halfway point of the patrol, about 2,000 meters from an Iraqi police station the unit was based at that day.
Sgt. Jesse E. Leach, the section leader for Mobile Assault Platoon 4, Weapons Company, was positioned near the rear of the patrol, about 15 meters from Valdez when the sniper shot rang out into the street. It came from a canal across the street and hit his close friend, Lance Cpl. Valdez.
As soon as the shot was fired, the Marines reacted by securing the area while searching for lower ground to reduce the risk of being hit.
At first, Valdez didn’t realize what happened. He thought someone else had been shot.
“I didn’t even know I got hit,” Valdez said. “I thought that somebody else just got messed up, and then I realize I’m on the ground and my arm is (debilitated).”
Valdez rolled over to let others know he was hit, then tried to move before he was shot again. Leach looked at Valdez and rushed over to his side. He pulled him across the street to cover. The unit did not have a corpsman readily available, so Leach started tending to his wounds.
“I was probably the closest thing he had to a corpsman or medical personnel,” Leach said.
Leach began ripping the gear and uniform off Valdez in search of an entry and exit wound. Valdez had been struck in the arm. The bullet passed all the way through, from the top of his shoulder down into his ribcage. It punctured a lung and exited through his back.
It was getting hard for Valdez to breathe, and he couldn’t feel his hand. But he had always felt it important to set an example for the younger Marines of the unit.
He didn’t want to be seen as the guy crying on the side of the street. He wanted to be seen as the one who sucked it up and kept going as long as he could.
“It’s what we do in life that tells everybody who we are,” Valdez said.
“The thought that I was going to die started creeping in,” he continued. “After a few minutes, I thought if I’m going to die, I have to see somebody smile because of me. I always like making people smile.”
Valdez then looked up at Leach with a smile and said, “This sucks.” Leach agreed and started to laugh at his friend’s humor.
“I tried to laugh, but the pressure he was putting on my back made me wince in pain,” Valdez remembered. “I couldn’t say anything else. I was barely breathing through my nose.”