Marine Killed in Baghdad Was Determined, Compassionate

By Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 15, 2007

There may not be higher praise than was offered last night for Douglas A. Zembiec, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, a resident of Annapolis and a Marine.

"I thought he was one of the greatest people on Earth," said Zembiec's father-in-law, William Slunt.

"He was one of the best Americans that this country could ever know," said Alexandra Ripley of Annapolis, the wife of a close friend.

Zembiec, 34, a career Marine who held the rank of major and whose formal assignment was at corps headquarters, in Arlington, was killed in combat Friday in Baghdad, the Pentagon said last night.

A newspaper in Albuquerque, where he went to high school, described him as a legendary Marine, and his friend Tom Ripley said that was accurate.

In the corps, Ripley said, Zembiec was known as the "lion" of Fallujah for the warrior qualities he showed during the fierce house-to-house fighting there in the spring of 2004.

He "made a real kind of mark on the Marines," said Ripley, who comes from a Marine family and had himself served as a captain.

He was "one of the finest Marines and finest Americans I've ever known," Ripley added, hailing his friend's courage, unswerving optimism and "ferociousness in combat."

The citation for his Bronze Star recognized his heroism at the head of his men in Fallujah, under heavy fire from a more numerous foe. Moving from building to building, the citation said, and despite being seriously wounded, Zembiec led his men, directed their fire and helped evacuate other wounded Marines.

The 6-foot-2 Zembiec was a former All America wrestler at the Naval Academy. He was also passionate and compassionate, said Ripley, and among the "nicest, easiest-going, friendliest" of men.

His letter to the mother of a fallen Marine is in a book of writing by troops and their families that was published by Random House.

The death "brought tears to my eyes, tears that fell in front of my Marines," Zembiec wrote. "I am unashamed of that fact."

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