Ivica Jerak: The Croat who died as American hero

Author: Eric Sof

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Ivica Jerak, a Delta Force operator, was killed in the line of duty in northern Iraq in 2005. Delta Force is a unit specialized in urban warfare. Jerak died alongside two other soldiers when a bomb exploded near their position.


Ivica Jerak, a Croatian native, was known as a “Croatian sensation” or “Pizza” to his colleagues in the American army. He hailed from the small town of Debeljak near Zadar and had a 17-year career in which he was awarded 47 high military awards and honors, including the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.

Ivica Jerak also known as "Pizza" and "Croatian Sensation" during his Army days
Ivica Jerak also known as “Pizza” and “Croatian Sensation” during his Army days (Photo: XY)

Those unfamiliar with Jerak’s story in his native country may be surprised to see an inscription at a local school in his honor. The inscription, written in both Croatian and English, reads: “This playground and works are dedicated to the memory of Master Sergeant Ivica Jerak, son of Debeljak, a citizen of the United States who was killed in the line of duty.”

U.S. Military officials visiting Ivica Jerak's mother in 2012
U.S. Military officials visiting Ivica Jerak’s mother in 2012 (Photo: Sgt. Kyle Wagoner)

The objects mentioned in the inscription were intended for the youngest residents of Debeljak, a village with 950 inhabitants. They were financed by the Special Operations Command Europe of the U.S. Army, which donated $130,000 to preserve the memory of Master Sergeant Ivica Jerak.

Early life

Ivica Jerak was born on October 12, 1962 to Mirko and Dusko. He attended elementary school in the small villages of Debeljak and Sukošan. In Zadar, he became a maritime sailor. Jerak immigrated to the United States in 1985 and enlisted as a combat medic in the U.S. Army three years later. After completing his training, he was assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia, where he was part of the 690th Medical Company. Jerak also served in the 3rd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group, and the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group.

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A few years later, Ivica Jerak volunteered and completed the Delta Force and the Operator Training Course selection process. He was assigned to the unit in the late 1990s. One of his first deployments with Delta was to Bosnia on a mission to capture a person indicted for war crimes (PIFWC). Bosnia, like Croatia, was once part of Yugoslavia, and Jerak, fluent in Serbo-Croatian, was used in a human intelligence capacity to gather information from the indigenous populations.

Jerak took part in many military operations and missions worldwide, including international peace support operations in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. His wife Hye, an American citizen from South Korea, survived him. He also left behind his mother, Milka Jerak, and lived in Houston. Jerak was killed in northern Iraq on August 25, 2005, near Husaybaha while serving as a Delta Force operator. He was buried at the military cemetery in Arlington.

Ivica Jerak Arlington Cemetery
Ivica Jerak Arlington Cemetery (Photo: XY)

Medals and commendations

During his 17-year military career, Jerak completed a range of courses, including the Pathfinder Course, the Ranger Course, the Basic Airborne Course, the Static Line Jumpmaster Course, the Special Forces Assessment and Selection Course, the Special Operations Medical Course, the Emergency Medical Technician-Paramedic Course, the Military Freefall Course, the Jumpmaster Course, and the Advanced Noncommissioned Officer Course.

Master Sergeant Ivica Jerak
Master Sergeant Ivica Jerak (Photo: XY)

Jerak was awarded 47 decorations during his service, including four Bronze Star Medals, one with a Valor device, and two Purple Heart Medals. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star with Valor Device, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, and the Purple Heart.

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2 thoughts on “Ivica Jerak: The Croat who died as American hero”

  1. Fix this article. In the first couple of sentences, you stated that he was awarded a Silver Star, but that is an error. He was awarded the Bronze Star multiple times, but no Silver Star.

    Just trying to help.

  2. Thanks, some sources stated that his family members were told he was awarded a Silver Star. Still, a great warrior and American hero.

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