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Face of Defense: Corpsman Recalls Firefight That Earned Navy Cross

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 26, 2008 – As the Marines in 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 2nd Assault Amphibious Battalion advanced to secure the northern bridge in Nasiriyah, Iraq, on March 23, 2003, it seemed to then-Seaman Apprentice Luis Fonseca, a Navy hospital corpsman, that all hell had broken loose.

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Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Luis Fonseca, a hospital corpsman, checks a piece of medical equipment in the course of his daily routine of caring for servicemembers. Fonseca earned a Navy Cross for bravery during the battle of Nasiriyah, Iraq, on March 23, 2003. He treated about a dozen Marines during a six-and-a-half hour firefight. DoD photo
  

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

“As we came up and over the bridge, we ran right into an ambush,” he said from his current assignment aboard the USS Bataan. “They threw all they had at us -- small-arms fire, heavy machine-gun fire, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and artillery rounds.”

That’s when Fonseca got the call from then-Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. David Myers, asking him to check on the Marines in one of the vehicles that had been hit.

Trading his communications helmet for Kevlar, the corpsman on his first deployment grabbed his medical bag and headed for the vehicle, which by then was in flames. Five Marines had suffered at least shrapnel wounds.

“I noticed I had two patients with partial lower-leg amputations, one with flash burns to his eyes, and all had shrapnel wounds,” Fonseca said. “I applied tourniquets on the two Marines with the partial leg amputations and instructed the other Marines around to apply battle dressings on the others that were wounded.”

Fonseca decided to move the wounded Marines to his vehicle to get them out of the middle of what became a six-and-a-half-hour firefight. After reassessing wounds and administering morphine to the two troops with partial leg amputations, Fonseca got a call that another vehicle had been hit.

Normally, the column is lined up in numerical order. In the midst of the firefight, as the vehicles maneuvered to gain an advantage, they got out of order.

Fonseca couldn’t find vehicle C206 and returned to his own vehicle just as the enemy got what he described as four lucky hits.

“Two of them were on our right side. One was on our center top hatch. All three were … 122 mm mortar rounds,” he said. “The fourth and final round that disabled the truck was a recoilless rifle round that blew up our transmission.”

When the smoke cleared, the wounded Marines were transferred to another vehicle and moved out of the area -- all but one.

“I picked up the last Marine … and carried him to a ditch,” Fonseca said. “The Marine and I sat in the ditch for about 30 minutes before I could get another vehicle to pick us up and drive us out of there.”

When Fonseca had gotten all his patients to the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines’ corpsman, he turned around and headed back to the fight, where he rejoined his platoon.

“We lost about 18 Marines that day,” he said. “Fifteen others were wounded and left the battlefield, and about 10 others [who] were wounded … stayed.”

Fonseca, now a petty officer 2nd class, treated about a dozen Marines during that firefight, and as far as he knows, all of them survived their injuries. He was determined not to let them down. “As long as I was alive, I would keep working, even if it meant my life,” he said.

Fonseca was awarded the Navy Cross for his efforts to ensure the safety and well-being of the Marines under his care during the battle of Nasiriyah.

Though he was honored to have received it, he said, he doesn’t feel the medal truly belongs to him.

“The Navy Cross means to me honor, sacrifice and loyalty,” Fonseca said. “Honor because it is my honor to wear the Navy Cross for my brothers that gave their lives in that fight. So, it’s my honor to wear their Navy Cross that honors them. A lot of men sacrificed that day. Unfortunately, some families and friends had to sacrifice their loved ones.”

Since that first tour in Iraq, Fonseca has been back to Iraq once, and has served a tour in Afghanistan. He is married, and the couple has two sons.

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