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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Two Lima Co. Marines to receive awards for valor

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Jeb Phillips

Every day threatened the lives of Lima Company Marines in Iraq. Insurgents planted roadside bombs. They ambushed squads on patrol.

In the end, they killed 23 members of that Columbus-based company. More would have died if not for the Marines routine acts of bravery. And then there were a few whose courage went beyond what anyone could have expected.

Today, two of them will be awarded the Silver Star.

The award is the third-highest for military valor and the highest that any member of Company L, 3 rd Battalion, 25 th Marines received for their sevenmonth deployment last year.

One of the recipients, Cpl. Mark A. Camp, grew up in Maine and attended Ohio State University. He joined the reserve unit in July 2003, in part because he didn't know what do to with his life, in part because he wanted to serve his country.

The other, Sgt. David N. Wimberg, grew up in Louisville, Ky. His enlistment surprised his parents, but his older brother was a Marine, and Wimberg looked up to him. He was on active duty first, then joined the reserves. He had decided to leave the reserves just before Lima Company was mobilized, but he decided he couldn't let the company go over there without him.

Camp will accept the award himself. Wimberg's parents will accept his.

The company had come from New Ubaydi near the Syrian border, where, on May 8, 2005, two of its members were killed clearing a house in Operation Matador. On May 11, they rode in amphibious assault vehicles, called Amtracs, to clear a small village of insurgents.

Lance Cpl. Mark Camp stood in the top hatch of one, providing security, making sure things looked safe. He put his goggles over his eyes, but he had left his fireproof gloves in his pack.

At first he saw children playing, which is usually a good sign. But as the "trac" rolled on, everyone seemed to disappear. It got quiet.

Then ... boom. A roadside bomb launched the trac into the air, throwing a Marine standing with Camp into a nearby field. Inside, shrapnel tore through the men.

The explosion lit Camp's hands and face on fire and knocked him back into the vehicle. He beat on his face with his arms and put out the flames. The goggles probably saved his eyes.

His hands took longer to extinguish. He waved them, he hit them against his uniform and, finally, they went out, too, horribly burned. He yelled for someone to open the back door.

Someone did, and most of the 17 Marines who had been inside tumbled out. Everyone was hurt. Some were on fire. Camp remembers asking one if he was OK.

"No," the Marine said.

Then he heard yelling from inside the vehicle. It was Pfc. Christopher Dixon, 18, of Obetz, a member of Camp's fire team. Camp knew his voice. He crawled back into the vehicle to save him.

"He was my friend," Camp said.

Camp banged his leg, felt pain and noticed for the first time that he had taken shrapnel in his right thigh. He kept going. The heat was cooking off ammunition all around him. Bullets flew. He tried to keep low.

He grabbed Dixon with his burned hands, but he was weak. He kept telling Dixon that he was going to have to help him.

Then there was another explosion. Camp fell back out of the vehicle, on fire again. Once more, he put himself out. Dixon was still inside.

"I got back up. I crawled back in the trac," he said.

Sgt. David N. Wimberg was killed in an ambush while protecting others in Lima Company from insurgents? gunfire.

Now, Dixon wasn't moving, and he wasn't talking. Camp tried to grip his pack, his helmet, anything, but by then the skin was melting from his hands. The heat inside the vehicle grew. Ammunition fired off everywhere.

"I'm screaming for someone to help me," he said. "I'm screaming for someone with fresh hands."

Finally, some Marines pulled Camp away and Dixon free, too. The second explosion had killed Dixon.

Outside the vehicle, Camp tried to move.

"All of the sudden, I can't walk anymore," he said. His right leg, the one with the shrapnel, gave out. Lima Company Marines told that story over and over again, said Gunnery Sgt. Shawn Delgado, as an example of how heroic someone can be. "Camp was a guy that everyone wanted to emulate," Delgado said. Camp won the Silver Star for his rescue attempt on May 11, and for his actions on May 8, when insurgents who were hiding in a closet and in an underground crawl space of a house shot four members of his squad. Camp was outside, but ran inside the house three separate times to clear the insurgents and recover his squad members.

Camp spent a month at Brooke Army Medical Center getting skin grafts for his hands and recovering. He spent some time in Maine, where he grew up, and now is back in Columbus, still on active duty. He's been promoted to corporal.

The backs of his hands are all big scars; he can shake your hand, lift weights, button a shirt. You don't notice the marks on his face until he points them out. He married in July.

Camp, 25, has one more operation scheduled on his hands in the fall. He's a senior history major at Ohio State. After the operation, he wants to finish school.

Sgt. David Wimberg is not around to tell his story. But Sgt. Maj. Dan Altieri, who was with Wimberg on May 25, 2005, in Haditha, can.

About 45 Marines, including Wimberg's squad and Lima Company's commanders, walked in a column down a road, patrolling early that morning. Altieri heard what sounded like a bolt being back pulled on a gun. He turned to find a man holding an assault rifle aimed at the Marines. Altieri fired.

"All hell broke loose," he said.

It seemed the column was being fired on from everywhere, but most of the shots were coming from a house to the left, about 35 feet away. The Marines were exposed. It was an ambush.

"Cover me," Wimberg yelled at Altieri. Altieri fired in the direction of the house, and Wimberg ran and jumped over the wall just in front of it.

The insurgents aimed at Wimberg. He needed three tries to open a gate in the wall because of the fire, and his squad was able to come into the courtyard.

They moved around to the door. A squad member tried twice to kick the door in, but couldn't. Then Wimberg did. In front of him stood four insurgents, all armed with AK-47s.

They fired at him, and he fired at them. He wounded one. They killed him. But he had stunned them, Altieri said. His squad members were able to drag him away and kill the insurgents inside.

By running into the fire, Wimberg broke the ambush, Altieri said. He took the bullets for those dozens of men standing in the road.

"I don't know how many Marines we would have lost without him," Altieri said.

Wimberg's parents, Tricia and Dennis Wimberg, will accept the Silver Star for their son today, who died at 24 years old. They'd rather have him than the medal, Tricia Wimberg said, but they are proud that he's being recognized this way.

"This is a response to the final act," she said. "The last thing he did in his life was protect his Marines."

E-mail Jeb Phillips.

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