Marine awarded Purple Heart after March attack

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   Editor's Note: Some information used in this story was collected by United States Marine Corps Sgt. J.L. Zimmer III and is being reprinted here with permission of the USMC.
   AL ASAD, Iraq -- A member of the Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, based in Gray, Tenn., U.S.A. has received the Purple Heart and a second member of the same Company is scheduled to receive the Purple Heart.
   Sgt. Jeremy A. Williamson, 27, of Knoxville, Tenn., was awarded his Purple Heart on April 1 at a ceremony officiated by Maj. Don R. Avant, company commander of Lima Company, in the presence of his fellow Marines, his commanding general and his group commander.
   Williamson was injured while providing convoy security in a hostile area on March 13 when an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detonated next to the Humvee he was riding in.
   "This was only the second convoy we had provided security for since arriving in theatre," said Williamson, the 2nd squad leader, 2nd platoon for Lima Company 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, a unit tasked with external and convoy security for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. "We were providing security for more than 80 tactical vehicles when we left that day. There were a total of 20 vehicles per squad in our company that needed to be secured."
   After taking last minute security checks before departing on the convoy that day, Williamson returned to his Humvee to find his radio operator, Lance Cpl. Eric Shaw, 19, of Ohio, sitting in the rear seat on the driver's side of the vehicle.
   "When Sergeant Williamson got back to the Humvee, he told me to move over to the back passenger seat," said Shaw.
   What neither Marine knew was that the change of seating would end up being a very fateful decision.
   Williamson remembers the attack that injured him with precision and shared his thoughts with others on the day he received his Purple Heart.
   "As our vehicle was moving forward, we called in our checkpoint at the same time the (improvised explosive device) exploded," Williamson said. "I felt a burning sensation on my left arm and the left side of my face. I woke up to Marines yelling, 'IED,' and looked at the Marine in the turret and saw him bleeding. I am an (emergency medical technician) and knew we had to get the Marine out of the vehicle."
   The injured Marine in the turret of the Humvee was 22-year-old Lance Cpl. Nathan Morrow, of Elizabethton. Morrow sustained serious injury to his upper body and face in the explosion.
   "I assessed his injuries and that is when a corpsman arrived and began to give first aid," Williamson said. "After that, I got on the radio to request a (casualty evacuation helicopter), but I started to experience the first stages of shock."
   Another Marine in the Humvee, Sgt. Patrick "Sean" Johnson, 32, of Elizabethton, who is the 2nd platoon guide, was uninjured in the attack but witnessed the way Williamson reacted both to being injured himself and seeing a fellow Marine injured.
   Despite the fact that he was injured, Williamson refused medical treatment for himself until the situation was under control, according to Johnson.
   "I noticed Williamson's face was bleeding, but he said he was fine," said Johnson. "He got out of the vehicle and started to provide security and gave first aid to another injured Marine."
   According to Shaw, changing seats with Williamson helped him escape injury. Shaw stated that he was the only Marine in the vehicle that was not knocked unconscious as a result of the explosion.
   "It was all surreal," said Shaw. "It seemed like a long time had passed, but it was less than a minute. After that eternity had passed, I heard Sgt. Williamson asking if anyone was hurt. I could not comprehend what was going on around me but I told him I had not been hit."
   Williamson stated that before receiving any first aid for himself, he had to insure that the injured Marine was safe and security had been posted around the damaged vehicle.
   "We moved two more vehicles to block the road to protect the other Marine," Williamson said. "I remembered my thought pattern the entire time; I asked myself if I was hurt, I was. I asked myself if I could function, and I could.
   "I had to take care of the other Marines first because that is who I am responsible for."
   Morrow, the Marine Williamson assisted in removing from the Humvee and getting medical attention for, is also scheduled to receive the Purple Heart.
   Morrow sustained life-threatening injuries in the attack but has since undergone surgery and is expected to make a full recovery. He returned home on Saturday morning on a two-week furlough before returning to Camp Pendleton, Calif., where he will undergo additional surgery for his injuries.