Disabled US Veteran, Silver Star & Purple Heart Recipient, entrepreneur, and featured in several best-selling books
CAMP PENDLETON —— It was a dangerous mission gone awry on a day when the fighting was supposed to cease in the volatile Iraqi city of Fallujah.
But amid the terror and the tragedy that marked the firefight, an individual Marine's courage and quick thinking saved dozens of his comrades from the insurgents' bloody onslaught.
His leaders say the Marine's actions on April 26, 2004, turned the tide of the fight in Fallujah that day.
And for his valor, he was awarded the Silver Star —— the Navy's third-highest combat honor —— at a short ceremony at Camp Pendleton on Wednesday.
Lance Cpl. Thomas Adametz, 23, received the award for braving grenade attacks and intense small-arms fire as he grabbed a machine gun from a wounded Marine and fired into a squad of insurgents who had his platoon pinned inside a house, according to the award citation read at the ceremony.
His "aggressive actions and devastating fire" broke the insurgents' stranglehold, allowing his buddies to escape from the house and gain the upper hand while they evacuated several badly wounded Marines, the citation said.
"We would have been overrun," said Cpl. Carlos Gomez, 22, a member of Adametz's platoon who fought in the battle and recounted the fight after the ceremony.
Gomez, who said his arm was nearly blown off in the two-hour battle, said Adametz's selfless action allowed the other Marines of 2nd Platoon, Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, to fight back against a barrage of grenades and rocket-propelled grenades tossed and fired from rebels only 25 yards away.
Calling him to the front of the 1,000-man infantry battalion to receive his award, Lt. Gen. John Sattler, the commander of Pendleton's I Marine Expeditionary Force, called Adametz a "great warrior."
Sattler, who commanded Pendleton's Marines in Iraq from August 2004 to March, said Adametz changed the course of the battle.
"The enemy thought they had the upper hand," he said. "They learned differently at that point."
After the ceremony, with the Silver Star pinned on his chest, Adametz said the battle was a nightmare.
"Imagine going to hell and coming back," he said, standing cooly after the ceremony, his dark, tattooed arms resting easily at his side.
Adametz, originally from the Philippines, was modest about his heroism, saying he did what any other Marine would have done.
When a TV reporter asked him what it felt like to be "the man," Adametz politely refused the distinction.
"I'm still just Lance Cpl. Adametz, ma'am," he said quietly in military deadpan.
His parents beamed from the background as they watched their son shaking hands with generals and being patted on the back by his fellow grunts.
"I'm just proud —— obviously," said his teary-eyed father, Robert Adametz, of Maine. "I just thank God that he did what he did and came back alive."
The April 26 battle came at the end of the Marines' first attempt to crush the insurgent stronghold in Fallujah in 2004. After a week of fierce urban combat, the violence slowed to intermittent, tit-for-tat bursts along the city's edge under a declared cease-fire that wasn't.
In the northwest quarter of Jolan, where the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines were holed up in several blocks of abandoned and bullet-torn houses, insurgents attacked the Marines several times a day, usually at dusk and dawn.
On April 24, an adjacent company sent out a stealth patrol of about 30 Marines who later ambushed and killed 11 insurgents near a mosque as the rebels gathered for an attack.
Echo Company sent out a similar patrol two days later that moved some 200 yards into the city on foot.
After one squad searched a mosque, finding it empty, they returned to where the others manned positions in a nearby house.
"When they got back, that's when all hell broke loose," remembered Lance Cpl. John Flores, who was wounded in the insurgents' attack.
Flores and others said the platoon was surrounded by insurgents in two houses, and cut apart by grenades and rifle fire.
One Marine was killed and at least 10 were wounded, according to the battalion's leaders.
Flores said Adametz's actions paved the way for other actions as the Marines fought a hasty retreat and rescued the wounded Marines, killing dozens of insurgents in the fight.
"They (insurgents) were so close you could see their hands throwing grenades," Flores said.
"By him suppressing, everybody got out of the building and we evacuated the wounded," he said.
At the time of the battle, 1st Sgt. William Skiles said that between 50 and 100 rebels had sneaked around them.
"They waited a few hours after we went in and then they attacked," he said, just a couple of hours after he and others rushed into the battle to extract the wounded Marines.
Skiles, Flores and Gomez are among numerous Echo Company Marines who, like Adametz, have been cited for their valor that day.
Lt. Gen. Sattler called Adametz a "great example" of the Marine Corps' core values: honor, courage and commitment.
"Commitment," he said, means "dedicating yourself to something larger than yourself.
"You couldn't get a stronger commitment than that Silver Star," he said, pointing to Adametz as an example for the others as they train for their next deployment.
Even as they receive awards for the recent fighting in Fallujah, Echo Company and the rest of the battalion are due to deploy again, possibly to Iraq, in July.
Contact staff writer Darrin Mortenson at (760) 740-5442 or [email protected] .
By the time Lance Cpl. Thomas Adametz darted out of the besieged house full of Marines to man an abandoned machine gun, scores of insurgents were close enough that they could almost drop grenades on the troops.
AK-47 fire rained down from nearby windows and doorways, and insurgents sent rockets sizzling into the Marines’ position.
The more than 30 men from the 2nd Battalion, 1st Regiment of the 1st Marine Division were hemmed into the battered building in Fallujah. Their position was in danger of being overrun. Casualties were mounting.
“All the houses around us were just full of insurgents. They were on the rooftops right next to us,” said Lance Cpl. John Flores, who was wounded in the attack. “They were swarming all in on us.”
The machine gunner, who was dazed by a grenade explosion, dropped his Squad Automatic Weapon, and Adametz made the decision that would eventually earn him the Silver Star “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy,” on April 26, 2004, his award citation reads.
“I knew my 16 wasn’t laying down enough fire,” he said. So he darted into the automatic fire and explosions outside the Marines’ defensive position and grabbed the abandoned SAW, firing it at the attackers until the barrel overheated.
“He just stepped out there and started shooting,” Flores said.
The Marines had been out on a mission to clear a pair of buildings near a new sniper location before the shooting started that morning, Adametz said. It was a quiet morning, with ominous portents of a coming battle.
“‘Something’s not right. Something’s going to happen,’” he remembered thinking. “It was quiet for hours and hours.”
Flores remembers the day beginning the same way, quietly, with, “only a couple of RPGs and a couple of AK rounds or whatever.”
But then, the insurgents sprang their ambush by tossing grenades onto the roof of the Marines’ position, wounding the men there, and suddenly things were no longer quiet.
“I just heard grenades, and people screaming and yelling,” Flores said.
The grenade attack was the catalyst for the assault that would eventually bring the insurgents right to the very doorstep of the Marines’ makeshift bunker.
“They were so close,” Flores said. “They were, like, kicking the door in, trying to come into our house.”
It was in trying to repel that onrush that Adametz burned his hand changing out the melting barrel of his adopted SAW, before ratcheting in a second barrel. When that one seized up, he ditched it, ran inside to get another, then went back out again to continue defending the building.
There was no shortage of targets, he said, recalling enemy fighters arriving “by the truckload and the busload.”
“They just kept on coming,” he said. “It just felt wrong not to pull the trigger that day.”
With nearly half the squad eventually hit in the more-than-five-hour fight, the number of unhurt defenders was shrinking, Adametz said, and he thought he might eventually be overwhelmed by the attackers. His reaction to the notion?
“To be honest? ‘This sucks,’” said the 23-year-old from Winslow, Maine.
But Adametz and the Marines of Company E stayed on their guns until the wounded could be evacuated and the attack subsided, a desperate defense that garnered the men a number of Bronze Star and Silver Star nominations.
“And I can’t even count how many Purple Hearts were awarded that day,” Adametz said.
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