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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Nine soldiers awarded Purple Hearts

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Pvt. Jason Janahi was on patrol in Afghanistan along the Pakistan border when he took a hit from the side. Shrapnel sliced through his jaw, and the next thing he knew, he woke up in Germany.


These are the nine soldiers who received Purple Hearts at the Oct. 13 ceremony: 1st Lt. David Morgan, Master Sgt. Jon L. McLean, Sgt. Sean U. Lane, Spc. George N. Perez III, Spc. Christopher G. Terrell, Spc. Joseph Salinas, Spc. Ryan J. Goede, Pfc. Lloyd Evans, and Pvt. Jason I. Janahi. An information hot line has been established at the University of Hawai'i to relay the latest information relating to flood emergency messages or class scheduling. Call 956-0001.

Spc. George Perez III was ejected from a Humvee in Iraq. He had to reposition his two broken legs before dragging himself from a ditch.

1st Lt. David Morgan was in the biggest firefight the 25th Infantry Division (Light) has been involved in in Iraq — a daylong gun battle April 7 in the Sunni Triangle city of Huwijah, in which Hawai'i soldiers fought house to house with bullets cracking and rocket propelled grenades exploding everywhere.

The three Schofield Barracks soldiers were among nine to receive Purple Hearts during a ceremony recently at Sills Field.

The tales are simultaneously some of the most terrifying and inspiring from the Tropic Lightning division's involvement on two war fronts. Hawai'i-based soldiers have been awarded 156 Purple Hearts for Iraq service, and 52 for Afghanistan. Their stories speak of bravery, close calls, and in some cases, permanent loss and death.

Spc. Charles Woolwine with A Company, 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, lost his lower leg in a May 2 roadside bomb and small arms fire attack while on a vehicle patrol in Kirkuk, Iraq. Staff Sgt. Todd Nunes would die of his wounds at the Kirkuk Air Base medical facility.

A struggle to recover

On a Web site devoted to the A Company "Gators," 1st Sgt. Robert Jennings said that five months after losing his leg, Woolwine is learning to maneuver stairs and curbs with a prosthesis. He wants to start jogging on a treadmill as he goes through rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. so he can stay in the military.

It hasn't been easy for Woolwine, or his mother.

"I do find it wrenchingly hard to watch my beautiful son struggle and claw his way back to a normal life. I know that will always be the case," Myrna Bein told Jennings. "I want to help him so much ... I'd give him my own leg if only I could, but I know this is a journey only he can make, and in his own way. I'm thankful for his life and for the qualities in his personality that make him such a determined fighter."

Lt. Gen. John M. Brown, commander of U.S. Army, Pacific, told the group of nine Purple Heart recipients at the ceremony that they were "a pretty diverse group, but a group with something in common that will stay with them and identify them for the rest of their lives."

"These nine soldiers have made an investment in our country, an investment on behalf of all of us standing here today and every citizen of our great nation," Brown said.

Doctors took a bone from Janahi's hip to reconstruct his jaw, and made replacement teeth for him. Pins protruding from his face hold his new jaw in place. On Friday, Janahi had several appointments throughout the day at Tripler Army Medical Center for treatment.

Col. Lloyd Miles, who commands the 25th Division's 2nd Brigade Combat team in Iraq, said compared to some other units, his casualties have been fairly low. He estimated that 75 percent of the wounded soldiers have been able to return to duty.

Morgan said it felt good to receive a Purple Heart, "but the biggest thing for me was making sure my soldiers were recognized for their sacrifice. They've given more than most by shedding blood for their country."

At least nine soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry "Wolfhounds" were in line to receive Purple Hearts from the April 7 firefight in Huwijah, about 40 miles southwest of Kirkuk in the uppermost tip of the Sunni Triangle.

Tales of battle

There were no U.S. fatalities, while 35 enemy fighters were killed and a like number were wounded. About 50 were captured.

The early days of April were some of the bloodiest across Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein with gunfights in at least six cities with Shi'ite militias.

That violence extended to Huwijah, where Morgan believes a demonstration by a group of about 100 Iraqis was used as a cover so fighters could get into position. From about 9:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., A and B companies of 1-27 were engaged in heavy fighting street-to-street and house-to-house.

"They (militants) were in the alleyways, they were on top of the buildings, they were in the windows, they were everywhere," Morgan said. "They would fire with an AK-47 and a guy would turn right around and follow up with a (rocket propelled grenade) down the street." heroism and sacrifice

RPG rounds were skipping off the ground and blowing up in the air or against buildings. Sgt. Andrew Fix had a bullet ricochet into his foot and argued with a doctor who wanted to take him out of the fight. A round hit Sgt. Don Wegesend "and completely blew his elbow out," Morgan said.

Morgan tore his anterior cruciate ligament, had surgery on his knee, and is in Hawai'i recuperating. Spc. Joe Herndon received his first Purple Heart in the April 7 firefight, and his second from a June 25 "improvised explosive device" injury. He was killed in action on July 29.

Miles said the firefight in Huwijah would have made international news, except for the fact that so many other battles were occurring simultaneously. There has been no conflict of that scale in the Kirkuk province region since then.

"A lot of people don't see — I don't know if it's patriotism or what the word is I'm looking for — but the true sacrifice of what these guys do," Morgan said.

When Fix was shot, "he didn't want to leave the fight," and when Wegesend's elbow was hit "he didn't care about his own safety. He didn't drop to the ground. He didn't do anything but turn around and ensure his own team's safety," Morgan said. "It just shows you the true fight in these guys."

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5459.