War Heroes XIV - Willie L. Copeland III
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif.(April 28, 2005) -- Entangled by an ambush of more than 50 insurgents, and showered by dozens of rocket-propelled grenades, Sgt. Willie L. Copeland III didn't automatically take cover - he took charge.
Sorely outnumbered by insurgents, he led a fierce counterattack while safeguarding his Marines from heavy enemy fire, according to battlefield accounts.
For his heroic actions and bold leadership in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Copeland, team leader for 2nd Platoon, Company B, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, received the nation's second-highest combat award - the Navy Cross - April 21 at the Camp Del Mar Boat Basin.
"You don't expect him to come home and get that kind of award," said his mother, Robyn Copeland. "However, I was already very proud of him before the award.
"I didn't need this to know he's an exceptional person."
Seven Marines have been awarded the Navy Cross since Jan. 10 in OIF, according to Staff Sgt. Ronald N. Mendez, adjutant chief for I Marine Expeditionary Force.
Copeland, 26, from Smithfield, Utah, was overwhelmed by the mass attention his award lured - including 200 of Marines, friends and family members, along with several news organizations that turned out to record the event.
"Nothing's natural about running into bullets," said Copeland, who said he was nervous about the media hordes on hand. "I was only worried about my Marines and their safety."
His award was no surprise to one of his other close family members.
"He trained for battle 24/7," said his wife, Sgt. Danielle E. Copeland, 24, from Pasadena, Texas. "I knew what he did was all instinct, and I'm very proud of him"
The battle that triggered Copeland's heroics erupted April 7, 2004, near the Al Anbar Province. An estimated 40-60 insurgents opened fire from well-fortified positions on a 15-vehicle convoy, according to the award citation.
Copeland led five Marines out toward the enemy through a deep, muddy canal. They pushed the attack against the enemy at close range.
The Marines killed 10 insurgents and pushed back many enemy fighters, the citation said.
"Everyone in that platoon was heavily engaged," said Col. Rory E. Talkington, who recommended the award for Copeland. "The fact that Sgt. Copeland was not hit was just miraculous."
However, his platoon commander, Capt. Brent L. Morel, was wounded at his side during the battle.
"Unwilling to subject any more Marines to danger, he signaled others to remain in covered positions," the citation reads. "While placing himself in a position to shield his wounded officer, he applied first aid."
Morel was evacuated and later died.
Assistant Secretary of the Navy Richard Greco pinned the award on Copeland during the ceremony. Afterward, he spoke about dedication and sacrifice.
"Charity comes from the Latin word 'Caritas.' The direct translation comes from "caro," which means flesh. True love, true charity, is actually defined as the "giving of flesh," Greco said. "There is no greater act of individual charity that a person can do than to lay down his life for love.
"I just want you to know that those of us who have the humble honor, humble duty to lead you know that we're asking you to be our stewards of charity," he said.
By Lance Cpl. Joseph DiGirolamo
Link with picture.
Previous War Heroes Threads - Brian Chontosh
Jason Dean Cunningham
Justin D. Lehew
Mark E. Mitchell
Joseph B. Perez
Marco A. Martinez
Luis E. Fonseca Jr.
Paul R. Smith - Medal of Honor
Scott C. Montoya
Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
God grant safety and victory to all our men and women under arms.
And thanks, Mr. Moto, for continuing to bring this kind of heroism to our attention.