A Hero Who Didn't Save Himself

Sgt. Jeremiah Workman was awarded the Navy Cross for his heroism while on duty in Fallujah.
Sgt. Jeremiah Workman was awarded the Navy Cross for his heroism while on duty in Fallujah. "Almost any infantry Marine would have done what I did," he says. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 4, 2007

Despite heavy resistance from enemy automatic weapon fire and a barrage of grenades, Corporal Workman fearlessly. . .

Jeremiah Workman stood at attention and tried to listen as the narrator read the citation that detailed what he'd done to earn the Navy Cross, an award for valor that is second only to the Medal of Honor.

. . . Corporal Workman again exposed himself to enemy fire while providing cover fire for the team when an enemy grenade exploded directly in front of him, causing shrapnel wounds to his arms and legs . . .

He was standing on the parade ground, facing a grandstand packed with hundreds of people, including his wife and his mother. Behind him were several hundred Marine recruits who were about to graduate from boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., where Workman had recently lost his job as a drill instructor after he suffered what he calls a "mental meltdown."

. . . Although injured, he led a third assault into the building, rallying his team one last time to extract isolated Marines . . .

When the narrator finished reading the story of Workman's "extraordinary heroism" in Iraq, Brig. Gen. Richard T. Tryon pinned the Navy Cross to Workman's chest and the crowd in the grandstand stood and cheered. It was a moment of well-deserved triumph, but it didn't make Workman feel any better.

"When they put that medal on me, from that point on, I sunk deeper into depression," he recalls. "Everybody says it must be awesome to win the Navy Cross. Well, as a matter of fact, it's not. I lost three guys that day, so for the longest time, I didn't even want to wear it. I'd look down at it and see three dead Marines."

Workman, 23, is sitting in a restaurant at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, where he now works, his Navy Cross ribbon pinned to his uniform, just above his heart.

"If we lost three people, why did I get an award?" he says softly. "The last thing I think is that I'm a hero."

"I enlisted two days after my 17th birthday," Workman says. "I was a junior in high school. A year later, when I graduated, they shipped me to Parris Island."

He grew up in Marion, Ohio, son of a factory worker and a housewife. A jock in high school, he wanted to be an Ohio state trooper, but you have to be 21, so he figured he'd join the Marine Corps first.

"In my eyes, the Marine Corps was the elite, the tip of the spear," Workman says. "I walked into the recruiter's office and said, 'I want to be a Marine.' I was probably the easiest person they ever talked to."

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