Helping Some Marines in Trouble

(reading time 5 minutes)

“Hey, how’d you get that medal?” a patron at the bar asked Marine Captain Ryan Carpenter of Buffalo, New York. “Oh I just helped out some Marines in trouble, when I was in Iraq.”  “Oh”, said the guy at the bar. “Musta’ been rough over there.” “Sorta”, he replied. The medal happened to be the Navy Cross.  There was a lot more to this story than “just helping some Marines in trouble”.  The patron was a writer for a local newspaper and radio station, so before he left, he wanted the whole story.  Ryan didn’t seem to be much of a conversationalist.  As luck would have it, the patron had his lap top computer with him, and knew just how to conduct an interview.  It was like pulling teeth, however he got most of the story.

Joe, the patron at the bar, later went to the Internet and searched under Navy Cross recipients, and there he was indeed, Ryan Carpenter.  There’s quite a bit more to the story.  The medal Captain Carpenter was wearing was less noticeable that it should have been, since all of the other ribbons he was wearing emblazoned his uniform were almost overpowering. The Navy Cross is the second highest award for Marines and Navy heroes.

Captain Carpenter was right in his comment, albeit humble.  He did help some Marines in trouble, and here’s how: As a platoon leader for his company, they were rolling up Iraq Highway #1, in a Humvee, when all hell broke loose.  Young Marines all around him were being cut to ribbons with mortars, rocket propelled grenades and machine guns.  This was a do or die situation, and it was up to the Captain to do something. Do or die alternatives generate adrenaline, like nothing else.  It must have been what Sergeant Alvin York and Audie Murphy experienced when they encountered similar situations in the First and Second World Wars, earning them the Congressional medals of Honor.  Do or die encounters will help most anyone make heroic decisions, and so it did in this case. The “die” alternative is not an acceptable option.

Without a blow by blow description of all the action, here are a few things that earned Bryan that Navy Cross: He was leading his men to safety, who were being picked off like fish in a barrel. Captain Carpenter gave the order to attack the enemy, and told the Humvee driver to floor the vehicle directly towards the machine gun emplacement, which was firing at them.

The Captain manned a 50-caliber weapon, mounted on the Humvee which he fired until he exhausted the ammo into the emplacement. Within minutes, dead and wounded enemy were slumped all over the trench by their guns. He then ordered the Humvee driver to drive into the trench which was hiding the Iraqis, and who were attacking his Marines. Now, the 50-caliber machine gun was empty. Captain Carpenter resorted to his M16 rifle, which he was carrying until that too was out of ammunition. After emptying his rifle, he fired his sidearm 45 until once again, no ammo left.  As he ran along the enemy’s trench, ducking bullets all the way, he took the guns and ammunition from the dead Iraqis.  With their own mortars, rifles, machine guns and grenades, he managed to kill all he encountered. It was almost like a John Wayne movie, where the bullets seem to miss the good guys.  At one point, he stumbled on a cluster of hostile fighters.  With an AK47, that he picked up on the way, he proceeded to kill or disable them all, after which he rounded up his surviving and wounded men, and headed back to Highway #1.

I guess you could say, yes, the Captain did help some Marines who were in trouble when he was in Iraq. Not to mention an outstanding display of decisive leadership, unlimited courage in the face of enemy fire, and an utmost devotion to duty, disregarding his own safety. That is what earned him the Navy Cross.  It’s a shame someone could not give the full story to the guy in the bar who asked, “Hey, how’d you get that medal?”


“Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.”  Said John Wayne.

Names have been changed to prevent embarrassment due to inaccuracies.