Thursday, February 02, 2006

One Tough Marine

You may have heard about a tough marine - Gunnery Sgt. Michael Burghardt. He has become the "poster boy" for the military's resolve in winning the war in the Middle East. Usually, such stories that explode through email inboxes all around the world are hoaxes. This is not, as determined by urban-legend-fact-finder Snopes.com.

Leading the fight is Gunnery Sgt Michael Burghardt, known as "Iron Mike" or just "Gunny". He is on his third tour in Iraq. He had become a legend in the bomb disposal world after winning the Bronze Star for disabling 64 IEDs and destroying 1,548 pieces of ordnance during his second tour. Then, on September 19, he got blown up. He had arrived at a chaotic scene after a bomb had killed four US soldiers. He chose not to wear the bulky bomb protection suit. "You can't react to any sniper fire and you get tunnel-vision," he explains. So, protected by just a helmet and standard-issue flak jacket, he began what bomb disposal officers term "the longest walk", stepping gingerly into a 5ft deep and 8ft wide crater. The earth shifted slightly and he saw a Senao base station with a wire leading from it. He cut the wire and used his 7in knife to probe the ground. "I found a piece of red detonating cord between my legs," he says. "That's when I knew I was screwed."

Realizing he had been sucked into a trap, Sgt Burghardt, 35, yelled at everyone to stay back. At that moment, an insurgent, probably watching through binoculars, pressed a button on his mobile phone to detonate the secondary device below the sergeant's feet. "A chill went up the back of my neck and then the bomb exploded," he recalls. "As I was in the air I remember thinking, 'I don't believe they got me.' I was just ticked off they were able to do it. Then I was lying on the road, not able to feel anything from the waist down."

His colleagues cut off his trousers to see how badly he was hurt. None could believe his legs were still there. "My dad's a Vietnam vet who's paralyzed from the waist down," says Sgt Burghardt. "I was lying there thinking I didn't want to be in a wheelchair next to my dad and for him to see me like that. They started to cut away my pants and I felt a real sharp pain and blood trickling down. Then I wiggled my toes and I thought, 'Good, I'm in business.' As a stretcher was brought over, adrenaline and anger kicked in. "I decided to walk to the helicopter. I wasn't going to let my team-mates see me being carried away on a stretcher." He stood and gave the insurgents who had blown him up a one-fingered salute. "I flipped them one. It was like, 'OK, I lost that round but I'll be back next week'."

Copies of a photograph depicting his defiance, taken by Jeff Bundy for the Omaha World-Herald, adorn the walls of homes across America and that of Col John Gronski, the brigade commander in Ramadi, who has hailed the image as an exemplar of the warrior spirit. Sgt Burghardt's injuries — burns and wounds to his legs and buttocks — kept him off duty for nearly a month and could have earned him a ticket home. But, like his father — who was awarded a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts for being wounded in action in Vietnam — he stayed in Ramadi to engage in the battle against insurgents who are forever coming up with more ingenious ways of killing Americans.
You might get upset that a picture of an obscene gesture is on this page. Sorry about that but this is the man I want fighting for me. What an amazing story of strength, inspiration and pride.

I pray he's a believer and if not, I pray that God uses this "second chance" in life to draw Burghardt to Himself.

NOTE: You can also read on Snopes.com the history of the gesture of raising your middle finger to show your anger, disgust or frustration. However, be warned - there are a few references in the article to an even more obscene word.

2 comments:

Jim Pemberton said...

Ooo-Rah!

He reminds me of my drill instructor who encouraged our honorable platoon of stinkin' recruits not to be intimidated by officers. After all, he reasoned, they put their trousers on one leg at a time just like we did. "As for me," he growled, "I jump into my trousers with both legs at the same time."

It also reminds me of Master Gunnery Sergeant Mike who, as a young buck in Vietnam, was put on post one evening with no ammo. When the Sergeant Of The Guard came with his relief the next morning, then-Lance-Corporal Mike sported a sizeable pile of former Viet Cong with their throats slit.

It also reminds me of Eduardo Munoz, a diminuitive devildog, who, while serving as Senior Lance Corporal, would report to MGSgt (Top) Mike's (yes, the same warrior as in the previous account) office to make requests on behalf of the non-rates. One could walk by Top Mike's office and see LCpl Munoz dangling by his chest from one of the Top's massive fists. Top Mike's other hand would be poised index-finger-first in LCpl Munoz' face and the Top would be agressively denying the requests. LCpl Munoz, in such a situation, would be repeating his requests with similar vigor despite the apparent disadvantage of literally having no ground to stand on.

Then there's Master Sergeant Francese who spent alternating tours as drum major in Marine Corp field bands and on the drill field as a Drill Instructor. Once, while serving as the Battalion Senior Drill Instructor, he found himself in a presentation where the senior staff NCO giving the presentation took occasion to draw humor at the expense of the band. After a courteous request to cease and desist proved futile, MSgt Francese hoppoed up on the platform and laid the guy out. Apparently a representative from the office of the Secretary of the Navy was on board who reported the incident back to his superiors. The Secretary of the Navy found it in his heart to hop down to personally let MSgt Francese know that he would never be promoted again. Top Francese took the occasion to reply, "Good! I don't have anything to lose now."

The last line of the Marine's hymn goes like this: "If the Army and the Navy ever look on heaven's scene, they will find the streets are guarded by United States Marines!"

Semper Fidelis

doug shields said...

If that is the Same Francese that was my Senior Drill Instructor at Paris Island I can understand why he layed out the Staff NCO. He was a GYSGT when I had him and what an awesome Marine. There was no other Marine I looked up to during that time except for him. Way to Go Top, I would'nt take that crap either. It became a new Marine Corps after 1991, filled with racism,hate between each other and many other factors. I still miss it every day though, OOHRAH and Semper Fidelis