MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- In a conflict that has been lasting for three years, more than 170 U.S. service members who have fought in Iraq have been awarded the Silver Star. Wyatt L. Waldron, a former corporal with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, has recently been added to that list of distinguished few.
Waldron was awarded the Silver Star in a formation at the Combat Center’s Camp Wilson July 27.
The Quartz Hill, Calif., native served with 3/4 Weapons Company for four years, participating in three Operation Iraqi Freedom tours. He ended his honorable service in January 2006.
Roughly six months after he embarked on his journey in the civilian world, he was called back to Twentynine Palms, Calif., to stand in front of his old company and be decorated one last time.
The 25-year-old former heavy machinegunner traveled from his hometown, with his fiancé, his parents and other family members to receive the award from his former company commander and first sergeant.
Because the Leatherneck has been out of the Corps for six months, he was not in uniform and sporting a goatee. He stood at attention in front of the company and was pinned with the medal that read, "for gallantry in action" on the back and carried himself as a Marine leader who never lost his bite as a Devil Dog.
He spoke to the Marines of Weapons Company moments after being congratulated by his peers.
"Be brave. Don’t let down if you come under attack," said Waldron to some old and new members of his old section. "You’ve got to have no fear. Listen to your leaders because they know what you will see out there. And remember that the Marines you are with now are the only ones you have when you’re out there. Take care of each other and respect one another."
The three time combat veteran shed light on his experiences to the Marines so the company could come home from a fourth deployment successfully once again, said Waldron.
"I gave the Marines advice on what they should work on," he said. "I really wanted to give them a little encouragement."
Waldron’s citation was for his brave and selfless actions in a fierce battle against the enemy during combat operations June 19, 2005, in Iraq.
While serving as a section leader with Combined Anti-Armor Team 1, Weapons Company, he led his section on a vehicle-mounted security patrol along a road in Al Anbar province. As the four-vehicle convoy traveled down the route, Waldron, who was in the first vehicle, spotted an improvised explosive device on the side of the road. He told the last two vehicles on the patrol to halt short of it while his vehicle and the one behind him pushed passed it.
Just as the second vehicle passed the spotted IED, another IED detonated near Waldron’s vehicle, initiating a coordinated IED and small arms fire ambush by a 50-man enemy force.
Sgt. Andrew P. Schweers, a section leader with CAAT 1, was traveling in the second vehicle and recalled the beginning of the enemy ambush as he spotted a man with an AK-47 just as the blast hit the vehicle in front of him.
Waldron immediately saw four enemy machinegun positions firing at the lead vehicle. With no hesitation, Schweers notified the direction of the ambush to the last two vehicles as Waldron directed his driver to turn into the ambush and the vehicle’s gunner to engage the enemy machinegun positions.
"The enemy was trying to push us down a road where they could surround us with machinegun fire, but I knew not to fall into what they had planned for us," said Waldron. "I didn’t want us to go where they wanted us to. I knew we had to destroy their machinegun bunkers."
The four-vehicle convoy’s shift drove the enemy insurgents from their positions. "We opened up [fire] for a minute or two until we gained fire superiority," said Schweers, a Minnetonka, Minn., native. "After that we pushed through the kill zone."
Once the machinegun bunkers were destroyed from the furious fire of the M2 .50 caliber machine gunners, the Marines dismounted from the vehicles.
Waldron directed his vehicle to keep the suppressive fire on the enemy’s positions, and he called for the second vehicle’s gunner to assist in fire power. Moments later, several insurgents met the wrath of Waldron and his M-16.
Although the enemy insurgents outnumbered CAAT 1 by more than 30 men, the Marines were the victors at the end of the two-and-a-half-hour-long battle. Waldron then led his section in destroying the fleeing the enemy.
They abandoned their ground yet still made slight efforts to fight back, said Schweers. Despite a hail of machinegun and rifle fire from the enemy, Waldron continued his actions on foot as his vehicle’s .50 caliber machine gunner continued to provide suppressive fire.
"As we were chasing them down, we were pretty much killing them," said Schweers. After the fighting had ended, Waldron conducted a thorough search of the ambush site to find any other enemy elements. He then moved his section to extract a scout sniper team, which had been compromised and also received enemy fire.
Five hours after the initial attack, CAAT 1 was relieved by Lima Company.
"Cpl. Waldron pretty much coordinated the whole fight after we got hit with the initial attack," said Schweers who turned 24-years-old the day of the firefight. "He was on the radio giving the commands, and he pointed us in the right direction where we could fight back and win. He said to us, ‘follow me and cover my ass.’"
The Marines with CAAT 1 were very confident throughout their assault that day, said Waldron. Training may have seemed monotonous for the Marines before that day, but training kicked in and saved their lives.
"A big kicker for us that day was we did not have any casualties from the fight," said Waldron. "That was the best part that I remembered. Our trucks had bullet holes, but our gunners were on the spot with it. They fought back hard.
"It was a team effort," he added. "I couldn’t have led my Marines into this fight if I didn’t think they could do it. This was the best CAAT platoon in the Marine Corps, and they were with me, backing my plays. Sgt. Schweers was key in this. He followed me and backed me up the whole way."
Waldron’s achievements in his four years in the Marine Corps made a lasting impression on his seniors, peers and subordinates alike. According to his citation, Waldron’s contributions to his unit throughout their third deployment, but specifically on June 19, 2005, dubbed the "Father’s Day Massacre" by members of Weapons Company, outweigh the contributions of any other Marine of the same grade in his platoon. Waldron was recommended for the Bronze Star for his valor, but was enthusiastically recommended and approved for the Silver Star by the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Michael Hagee.
Waldron is now in a select group of Silver Star recipients, which includes Lt. Gen. Lewis "Chesty" Puller, Army Gen. George S. Patton and Marine sniper Carlos Hathcock.
"It’s a complete honor to be in the same category as other Silver Star recipients," said Waldron. "It was really cool to be decorated in front of my family, and see all of the Marines I served with."
Along with the Silver Star, Waldron received the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with a Combat "V" for valor, during his first tour to Iraq, and a Navy Commendation Medal with a Combat "V" during his second tour.
He was also combat meritoriously promoted to lance corporal during his first tour and combat meritoriously promoted to corporal during his second tour.
"Waldron is an all around true infantry combat leader," said Schweers. "Everyone looked up to him and followed him to hell and back. He’s a crazy bastard, and he’s awesome at what he does. Still, it’s always a team effort during combat."
Waldron currently resides in his hometown, Quartz Hill, Calif. Since he’s been out, he’s enjoyed many fishing trips and spending time with his family. However he misses the camaraderie and spirit of the Corps, he said. He plans to train to become a member of the Los Angeles Country Sheriff’s department. He and his fiancé are also expecting a baby in October.