Ivica Jerak: The Croat who died as an American hero

Eric Sof

Ivica Jerak, a distinguished member of the Delta Force

Ivica Jerak, a Delta Force operator, was killed in the line of duty in northern Iraq in 2005. Delta Force is a specialized unit renowned for its expertise in urban warfare. Jerak tragically lost his life alongside two fellow soldiers when a bomb detonated near their position. His life story is far from ordinary, primarily because he was born and raised in another country. Yet, he dedicated himself to fighting and ultimately sacrificed his life in service to the United States, a nation he wholeheartedly considered his own.


Ivica Jerak, originally from Croatia, was affectionately known as the “Croatian sensation” or “Pizza” among his colleagues in the American army. Hailing from the small town of Debeljak near Zadar, he built a remarkable 17-year career, earning 47 prestigious 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 description, written in 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 funded by the Special Operations Command Europe of the U.S. Army, which generously donated $130,000 to honor 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 former Yugoslavia, conscription was in practice, and all men at seventeen would register for service and be inducted into the military at nineteen. Ivica was no different. He served in the Yugoslav military. In Zadar, he pursued a career as a maritime sailor before immigrating to the United States in his early twenties.

Military career

In January 1988, he enlisted as a combat medic in the U.S. Army. After training, he was stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he served with the 690th Medical Company. Jerak also had assignments with the 3rd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group, and the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group.

Delta Force

Several years later, Ivica Jerak volunteered and completed the Delta Force Operator Training Course selection process. He joined the unit in the late 1990s. One of his initial deployments with Delta Force was to Bosnia to apprehend a person indicted for war crimes (PIFWC). Bosnia, like Croatia, was once part of Yugoslavia, and Jerak, fluent in Serbo-Croatian, was utilized in a human intelligence capacity to gather information from the local populations.

Jerak participated in numerous military operations and missions worldwide, including international peace support operations in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. He is survived by his wife, Hye, an American citizen from South Korea, and his mother, Milka Jerak, who resides in Houston.


Tragically, Jerak died in northern Iraq on August 25, 2005, near Husaybah while serving as a Delta Force operator. Ivica Jerak, two other Delta operators, and a fellow 3/75 Ranger lost their lives in action outside of Al Qaim, Iraq, when their Pandur vehicle struck an anti-tank mine. Delta operators Ivica Jerak, Trevor Diesing, and Obediah Kolath (who succumbed to his wounds two days later) and Ranger Corporal Timothy Shea gave their lives during combat operations against Al-Qaeda. He was buried at the military cemetery in Arlington.

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

Medals and commendations

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

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

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

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3 thoughts on “Ivica Jerak: The Croat who died as an 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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