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American Heroes

Ivica Jerak – the Croat who died as American hero

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Master Sergeant Ivica Jerak

Ivica Jerak was a member of 1st SFOD-D or publicly known as Delta Force, the unit specialized for urban warfare, who was killed in the line of duty in northern Iraq in 2005 alongside two other soldiers when a bomb exploded near their position.

For those who are not familiar with his story in his native country may find it strange when they see the inscription on the local school. The table written in both languages, Croatian and English, contains inscription: “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”.

msg. ivica jerak U.S. Army Special Forces

MSG. ivica jerak U.S. Army Special Forces

The objects mentioned in the inscription are intended for the youngest residents of the village Debeljak where lives 950 inhabitants. They were financed by the Special Operations Command Europe of the U.S. Army who donated $130,000 to preserve memory on MSG Jerak.

Ivica Jerak, son of Mirko and Dusko, was born on 12 October 1962. He attended elementary school in small village Debeljak and Sukošan while in Zadar he gained the title of a maritime sailor. After sailing the world’s seas, he landed in the United States in 1985 and only three years later he became a soldier when he enlisted as a combat medic. After training, he was assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia, where he was part of the 690th Medical Company. He also served in the 3rd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group and the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group.

Ivica Jerak took part in many military operations and missions around the world, including international peace support operations in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.

ivica jerak arlington cemetry

Ivica Jerak, Arlington Cemetry

He was survived by his wife Hye, an American citizen from South Korea. He lived in Houston.

As a member of the 1st SFOD-D, he was killed on August 25, 2005, near the town Husaybaha in northern Iraq. He was buried at the military cemetery in Arlington.

Among his fellow soldiers, he was known as Croatian Sensation. During his 17-years long military career Jerak finished various courses including 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.

During his service, he was awarded 47 decorations including four Bronze Star Medals, one with Valor device, two Purple Heart Medals.

Master Sgt. Ivica Jerak was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star with Valor Device, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and the Purple Heart.

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American Heroes

Hacksaw Ridge: How a medic saved 75 men in one night

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In late April 1945, 26-year-old Desmond T. Doss and his battalion were called upon to help fight near Urasoe Mura, Okinawa, in a campaign that would be one of the last and biggest in the Pacific. Using cargo nets, Doss’ battalion was tasked with climbing a treacherous, 400-foot-high jagged cliff, nicknamed Hacksaw Ridge, to get to a plateau. Waiting for them were thousands of heavily armed Japanese soldiers entrenched in hidden caves and holes.

On May 5th the tide of battle turned against the Americans. Enemy artillery, mortars and machinegun fire began to rake into the ranks of Company B, 77th Infantry Division. Japanese soldiers swarmed out of their foxholes and caves in every direction. Almost immediately 75 men fell wounded, and the remaining men were forced to fall back and retreat to the base of the escarpment. The only soldiers remaining at the top of the cliff were the wounded, the Japanese, and Desmond T. Doss.

About a week into the fight, Doss was the only medic available to advance with the rest of the men, who were close to taking the ridge from the enemy. It was his Sabbath, but Doss joined his men anyway, just as the Japanese concentrated massive artillery and other heavy fire on them.

Heedless of the shells that burst around him and the bullets directed his way, Desmond tended his injured comrades. At the base of the escarpment, those few soldiers who had managed to escape the onslaught could only sit helplessly by and hear the sounds of the battle as the wounded struggled to survive atop the cliff. And then…amazingly…a wounded soldier appeared over the face of the escarpment. Dangling from a rope, he slowly descended to the safety of its base as a tall medic fed the rope through his hands from the summit. First one, then another, and another….and another. Heedless of the advancing Japanese, Desmond Doss went about the work of sending the wounded to safety. Reports of that day tell of Japanese advancing with rifles and bayonets to within a few feet of the medic, slowly lowering his men to safety, before one of the wounded could kill the enemy before they shot Doss.

For five hours Doss lowered soldier after soldier down the face of the escarpment, using little more than a tree stump to wind the top edge of the rope around. Throughout the five hours, Desmond had only one thought. He prayed, “Lord, help me get one more. Just ONE more!” How many men Doss saved that day, only God knows. One hundred and fifty-five soldiers went up the escarpment that day, and only 55 were able to retreat without assistance. The Army determined the conscious objector who had almost been court-martialed or discharged as unfit for military service, had saved 100 lives. “Couldn’t be,” Desmond had replied. It couldn’t have been more than 50. I wouldn’t have had the time to save 100 men.” In deference to Desmond’s humble estimate, when the citation for his Medal of Honor was written, they “split the difference”, crediting the intrepid soldier with saving 75 fellow soldiers.

Desmond T. Doss (1919-2006), Medal of Honor recipient for his actions as an U.S. Army medic during World War II

The bloody struggle for the Maeda Escarpment continued for weeks. On the night of May 21st, the Americans launched a bold attack. When the return fire forced the Americans to take cover, Desmond remained in the open to treat the wounded. Then he, and three other soldiers, crawled into a hole to wait out the darkness. Suddenly a grenade landed among them. Three men scrambled out but Desmond was too late. Reflexively he covered the grenade with his boot, then felt it detonate beneath him and hurl his body into the darkness of night. When he fell back to earth the leg was still there but bleeding badly from numerous wounds. Rather than call for another medic to leave the shelter and risk his own life, Desmond bandaged his own wounds and waited the five hours alone until daylight broke. As the litter bearers arrived with the dawn and began to carry the wounded medic out of danger they passed another critically wounded soldier. Desmond instructed them to put down his litter, then rolled off it and told them to take the other man. While he awaited their return he was joined by yet another wounded soldier. Together the two of them set out for safety, leaning upon each other.

Once again rifle fire split the morning. Pain stabbed Desmond’s arm which was curled across the shoulders of his new comrade. The sniper’s bullet went into his wrist, exited through his elbow, and then lodged itself in his upper arm. Had the bullet not hit Doss, it probably would have struck his wounded compatriot in the neck. Desmond borrowed his friend’s rifle and used the stock to fashion a splint for his useless arm. Then the two continued to crawl to safety.

Seventeen pieces of shrapnel were removed from Desmond’s leg and his arm set in a sling. On the hospital ship Desmond was being prepared for the return home. Desmond Doss’ war was over. He’d fought a good fight…his own way…without ever compromising his strong beliefs.

On October 12, 1945, President Harry S. Truman warmly held the hand of Corporal Desmond Thomas Doss, as his citation was read to those gathered at the White House. “I’m proud of you,” Truman said. “You really deserve this. I consider this a greater honor than being president.”

Before being honorably discharged from the Army in 1946, Desmond developed tuberculosis. His illness progressed and at the age of 87, Corporal Desmond Thomas Doss died on March 23, 2006. He is buried in the National Cemetery, Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The Hollywood movie

The HACKSAW RIDGE is the extraordinary true story of Christian Army Medic Desmond Doss who, in Okinawa during the bloodiest battle of WWII, miraculously saved 75 men in one night without firing or carrying a gun. Lionsgate is releasing the film nationwide on November 4, 2016.

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American Heroes

Two Marines in the path of a truck bomb lay down lives to save others

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Nine years ago, two Marines from two different walks of life who had literally just met were told to stand guard in front of their outpost’s entry control point. On Apr. 22, 2008, Cpl. Jonathan Yale and Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter stood at entry control point at a joint security station in Ramadi along with Iraqi policemen.

Minutes later, they were staring down a big blue truck packed with explosives. With this particular shred of hell bearing down on them, they stood their ground. Heck, they even leaned in.

They immediately recognized the truck as a VBIED [Vehicle-borne improvised explosive device], stood in its path and began shooting. As the Iraqis around them fled, they leaned in, unloading their weapons. The truck stopped just short of the two Marines and detonated, killing them both instantly.

Both Marines were awarded the Navy Cross for their actions, which was captured on a security camera.

This story was told so many times so it becomes a legend. In 2010, just four days following the death of his own son in combat, Marine Lt. Gen. John Kelly eulogized two other sons in an unforgettable manner.

From John Kelly’s speech:

Two years ago when I was the Commander of all U.S. and Iraqi forces, in fact, the 22nd of April 2008, two Marine infantry battalions, 1/9 “The Walking Dead,” and 2/8 were switching out in Ramadi. One battalion in the closing days of their deployment going home very soon, the other just starting its seven-month combat tour.

Two Marines, Corporal Jonathan Yale and Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter, 22 and 20 years old respectively, one from each battalion, were assuming the watch together at the entrance gate of an outpost that contained a makeshift barracks housing 50 Marines.

The same broken down ramshackle building was also home to 100 Iraqi police, also my men and our allies in the fight against the terrorists in Ramadi, a city until recently the most dangerous city on earth and owned by Al Qaeda. Yale was a dirt poor mixed-race kid from Virginia with a wife and daughter, and a mother and sister who lived with him and he supported as well. He did this on a yearly salary of less than $23,000. Haerter, on the other hand, was a middle class white kid from Long Island.

They were from two completely different worlds. Had they not joined the Marines they would never have met each other, or understood that multiple America’s exist simultaneously depending on one’s race, education level, economic status, and where you might have been born. But they were Marines, combat Marines, forged in the same crucible of Marine training, and because of this bond they were brothers as close, or closer, than if they were born of the same woman.

The mission orders they received from the sergeant squad leader I am sure went something like: “Okay you two clowns, stand this post and let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles pass.” “You clear?” I am also sure Yale and Haerter then rolled their eyes and said in unison something like: “Yes Sergeant,” with just enough attitude that made the point without saying the words, “No kidding sweetheart, we know what we’re doing.” They then relieved two other Marines on watch and took up their post at the entry control point of Joint Security Station Nasser, in the Sophia section of Ramadi, al Anbar, Iraq.

A few minutes later a large blue truck turned down the alley way—perhaps 60-70 yards in length—and sped its way through the serpentine of concrete jersey walls. The truck stopped just short of where the two were posted and detonated, killing them both catastrophically. Twenty-four brick masonry houses were damaged or destroyed. A mosque 100 yards away collapsed. The truck’s engine came to rest two hundred yards away knocking most of a house down before it stopped.

Our explosive experts reckoned the blast was made of 2,000 pounds of explosives. Two died, and because these two young infantrymen didn’t have it in their DNA to run from danger, they saved 150 of their Iraqi and American brothers-in-arms.

When I read the situation report about the incident a few hours after it happened I called the regimental commander for details as something about this struck me as different. Marines dying or being seriously wounded is commonplace in combat. We expect Marines regardless of rank or MOS to stand their ground and do their duty, and even die in the process, if that is what the mission takes. But this just seemed different.

The regimental commander had just returned from the site and he agreed, but reported that there were no American witnesses to the event—just Iraqi police. I figured if there was any chance of finding out what actually happened and then to decorate the two Marines to acknowledge their bravery, I’d have to do it as a combat award that requires two eye-witnesses and we figured the bureaucrats back in Washington would never buy Iraqi statements. If it had any chance at all, it had to come under the signature of a general officer.

I traveled to Ramadi the next day and spoke individually to a half-dozen Iraqi police all of whom told the same story. The blue truck turned down into the alley and immediately sped up as it made its way through the serpentine. They all said, “We knew immediately what was going on as soon as the two Marines began firing.” The Iraqi police then related that some of them also fired, and then to a man, ran for safety just prior to the explosion.

All survived. Many were injured … some seriously. One of the Iraqis elaborated and with tears welling up said, “They’d run like any normal man would to save his life.”

What he didn’t know until then, he said, and what he learned that very instant, was that Marines are not normal. Choking past the emotion he said, “Sir, in the name of God no sane man would have stood there and done what they did.”

“No sane man.”

“They saved us all.”

What we didn’t know at the time, and only learned a couple of days later after I wrote a summary and submitted both Yale and Haerter for posthumous Navy Crosses, was that one of our security cameras, damaged initially in the blast, recorded some of the suicide attack. It happened exactly as the Iraqis had described it. It took exactly six seconds from when the truck entered the alley until it detonated.

You can watch the last six seconds of their young lives. Putting myself in their heads I supposed it took about a second for the two Marines to separately come to the same conclusion about what was going on once the truck came into their view at the far end of the alley. Exactly no time to talk it over, or call the sergeant to ask what they should do. Only enough time to take half an instant and think about what the sergeant told them to do only a few minutes before: “ … let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles pass.”

The two Marines had about five seconds left to live. It took maybe another two seconds for them to present their weapons, take aim, and open up. By this time the truck was half-way through the barriers and gaining speed the whole time. Here, the recording shows a number of Iraqi police, some of whom had fired their AKs, now scattering like the normal and rational men they were—some running right past the Marines. They had three seconds left to live.

For about two seconds more, the recording shows the Marines’ weapons firing non-stop…the truck’s windshield exploding into shards of glass as their rounds take it apart and tore in to the body of the son-of-a-bitch who is trying to get past them to kill their brothers—American and Iraqi—bedded down in the barracks totally unaware of the fact that their lives at that moment depended entirely on two Marines standing their ground. If they had been aware, they would have know they were safe … because two Marines stood between them and a crazed suicide bomber.

The recording shows the truck careening to a stop immediately in front of the two Marines. In all of the instantaneous violence Yale and Haerter never hesitated. By all reports and by the recording, they never stepped back. They never even started to step aside. They never even shifted their weight. With their feet spread shoulder width apart, they leaned into the danger, firing as fast as they could work their weapons. They had only one second left to live.

The truck explodes. The camera goes blank. Two young men go to their God. 

Six seconds.

Not enough time to think about their families, their country, their flag, or about their lives or their deaths, but more than enough time for two very brave young men to do their duty … into eternity. That is the kind of people who are on watch all over the world tonight—for you.

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