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Humble Hero Risks All to Save Fellow Marines, Accomplish Mission

By Cpl. Mike Escobar, USMC
Special to American Forces Press Service

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C., Dec. 16, 2004 – In a mountain range in the barren, poverty-stricken country of Afghanistan, automatic-weapons fire and grenade explosions fill the air with soot and rock debris. The high altitude and polluted air choke the Marines and local military forces as enemy tracer rounds whiz past, forcing them to hunker behind whatever cover they may find.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Lt. Col. Julian D. Alford, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment battalion commander, pins the Bronze Star medal with combat "V" device on Gunnery Sgt. William E. Bodette, company gunnery sergeant, Company K, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. Bodette received his award for his bold tactical decisions during three separate ambushes in Afghanistan. Marine Corps photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Amid all the chaos and destruction, one man returns fire, adrenaline pumping through his veins. Maintaining his composure and exhibiting poise under fire, he shouts out orders, directing his men to continue firing.

After almost 45 minutes of what seemed to him as a firefight that would never end, Marine Gunnery Sgt. William E. Bodette scans the terrain and sees that his troops have routed the hostile ambush.

He pats himself down and looks all over his chest for signs of entry wounds, but feels none. Bodette reaches down into his cargo pocket and pulls out a worn-out laminated photograph of his wife and three children, thanking the Almighty that he is still alive.

This is the third time this deployment the enemy has ambushed his troops, and the third time he's walked away, miraculously unscathed.

"I could hear (the rounds) snapping off all around me, and I even felt the heat of a rocket-propelled grenade as it flew right over my head," stated the Company K, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment company gunnery sergeant. "All around me I saw the green and red lights of the tracers. I don't know how I didn't get hit. I thought I was going to die for sure many times."

Boldly leading his troops and remaining stalwart under fire, the 36-year-old Clearwater, Fla., native's command presented him with the Bronze Star Medal with combat "V" device Dec. 13 during a ceremony here.

The award was created in 1944 to recognize individuals distinguishing themselves by heroic or meritorious achievement, both of which Bodette displayed.

"His decisiveness and combat leadership enabled three different patrols to quickly overpower enemy forces, and he was also directly responsible for establishing landing zone security for evacuating wounded U.S. and Afghan Forces," the award citation states. Still, Bodette remains humble.

"I owe my life to a lot of people, to all the Marines who were with me and did what they were trained to do," Bodette said. "I did what I've been trained to do all the years that I've worn this uniform, and I didn't do anything special. Somebody just saw me and thought I had."

Bodette has much to be proud of, military awards aside. As a 16-year veteran of the Marine Corps and former Marine Corps Recruit Depot drill instructor, he has touched many lives. It is this that gives him the greatest sense of personal satisfaction and accomplishment, he said.

"Not too long ago, I went to the (National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.) to award one of my former recruits (Cpl. Mark O'Brien, an infantryman with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment) his Purple Heart," Bodette said. "He was injured during a firefight in Ramadi, (Iraq,) and now he's missing his right arm and leg. He specifically asked for his senior drill instructor to pin on his medal.

"It was the greatest honor of my life," Bodette added. "No Bronze Star could ever take the place of what I did for that Marine, a Marine that I made. That's what's so special about the Marine Corps. It's not about the individual wars going on right now, or being able to say 'I did this, I did that,' but about the service you're doing for your country and your fellow Marine."

(Marine Cpl. Mike Escobar is a combat correspondent with 2nd Marine Division Public Affairs.)

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