I came across this Marine’s story on the Vets for Freedom website, and was struck not only with his heroism, but with his spirit.
His story begins on a dark night in 2004, when he and his fellow Marines of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines were standing watch at the Saqlawiyah Bridge in Fallujah. Just as he was coming off post, a motorcycle sped by in the darkness and he heard, “…the sound of the insurgent releasing the spoon of the old, pineapple-style grenade and the â€œclinkâ€ the grenade made when it hit the ground in his fighting hole.” (VFF)
His first instinct was to jump away, but then he saw that Marine Cpl. Charlie Koczan was asleep and unaware of the nearby threat. Gonzalez jumped on him as the grenade blew up.
“When it went off, the explosion ripped into Gonzalezâ€™s lower legs, feet and abdomen, wounding two of the other three men from Company F, …but leaving the sleeping man unhurt.” (Stars and Stripes)
â€œHe looked at me like it was my fault,â€ he said. â€œHe was like, â€˜Oh [expletive], whatâ€™d you do?â€™”, Gonzalez told Stars and Stripes. His injuries were serious, but his recovery has progressed well. At last report, he was walking again, and he is eligible to return to the Marines when he fully recovers.
He was awarded a Silver Star and Purple Heart for his actions that night.
The wounds were painful, but his spirit remained intact. “He ribs Koczan that he should have just jumped over him instead of on him, and Koczan said they have both caught flak for ‘spooning’ on the job. The jokes for Koczan, however, donâ€™t diminish what his friend did for him. Gonzalezâ€™s effort to cover him was ‘pretty much the only reason Iâ€™m not messed up right now,’ Koczan said.” (Stars and Stripes)
Gonzalez told Vets for Freedom that he wants to start wearing shorts again, but not until he gets a tattoo. And guess what he wants to write on his scarred leg?
â€œFreedom isnâ€™t free,â€ he said.
Lance Corporal Ben Gonzalez is our hero of the week.