The time had finally come for us to go home and see our families. I made a call home the day before to let everyone know the details of our flight so they could be there at the airport to greet us. I would be leaving Camp Lejeune for the final time. I had mixed emotions and thought about whether or not I was certain about my decision to finish out my contract as a reservist, or remain on active duty. Sergeant Jones tried one more time to talk me into staying, but in the end, my decision was final. Starting in May, I would be reporting to Mike Battery of the 4th Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment at Dallas Naval Air Station.
Besides the unofficial promotion to Sergeant, I had one more final goodbye gift. I was taken by surprise. When we mustered for formation at 1700 the afternoon before flying home, they were calling several people to the front for various commendations. I suddenly heard my name called out. “Corporal Lovell, front and center!” Hearing my name like that without expecting it made my heart jump. I stepped out of formation and marched up to Lieutenant Colonel Mazzara, saluted and said, “Sir, corporal Lovell reporting as ordered sir.” He returned my salute and then read the following:
“The Secretary of the Navy takes pleasure in presenting the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal
Corporal Richard W. Lovell
United States Marine Corps
Professional achievement in the superior performance of his duties while serving as Team Leader for Counter Battery Radar, 2nd Marine Division, 10th Marines, 5th Battalion from 20 January 1991 to 1 March 1991 while deployed in the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Desert Storm. On 24 February 1991 Corporal Lovell courageously lead all radar teams under his supervision through two heavily fortified defensive belts, often while under enemy fire and maneuvering through dangerous minefields. When his convoy came under attack by small arms fire from a nearby enemy bunker complex, Corporal Lovell’s convoy was pinned down and unable to continue. Still in the minefield and under heavy fire, Corporal Lovell disregarded his own safety and immediately took control by providing covering fire from his mounted M-60 machine gun until a team member could call in artillery support. His actions exemplified true courage and leadership. By his exceptional ability, personal initiative, and total dedication to duty, Corporal Lovell reflected credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”
One of my best friends, Corporal Tanner, had also received this medal. If you recall from Chapter 55, I included a picture of us in our dress blue uniforms. Tanner was wearing his medal but I wasn't. I said I would explain that later and so now I am. I wasn’t originally supposed to be the lead vehicle in that convoy, but plans changed after February 23rd. The lead vehicle would have been the Humvee that Pacman was driving when it was hit by the H.A.R.M. missile. I felt that the Achievement Medal would have gone to him if he hadn't been killed on the day before the ground assault. And I'm certain he would have done the same thing I did. So I feel a little bit guilty wearing a medal that I got only because a friend of mine was killed. Not to mention the fact that wearing it would only remind me of his death. Not only that but the only reason I sprung to action that day was because Doc, our Navy corpsman, was unable to see where they were firing at us from because his glasses fogged up. Or at least that was his reason to me later on. When I got tired of getting shot at, I took over the M-60 while he hunkered down in the back of the Humvee. This part of the war was covered in Chapter 60 under the section "Taking Fire."
I didn't know it until Lieutenant Colonel Mazzara read his certificate, but Corporal Tanner was the one in the truck behind me firing the .50 caliber machine gun. I remember the distinct sound it made as I was trying to reload my M-60.
Lieutenant Colonel Mazzara then pinned the medal on me and handed me the certificate which I am including with this post. I have to admit, I almost cried. Before I was dismissed, I was told not to go anywhere just yet. There was another commendation awarded to me. He read the following:
“The Secretary of the Navy takes pleasure in presenting the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal
Corporal Richard W. Lovell
United States Marine Corps
Heroic achievement while serving as Team Leader for the Counter Battery Radar, 2nd Marine Division, 10th Marines, 5th Battalion from 20 January 1991 to 1 March 1991 while deployed in the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Desert Storm. On 26 February 1991 Corporal Lovell encountered an enemy combatant in the vicinity of his position who was believed to be a forward observer preparing to call in an artillery fire mission on nearby friendly forces. Without hesitation, Corporal Lovell engaged the enemy and eliminated the opposing threat saving the lives of fellow Marines and nearby Coalition forces. His actions exemplified true courage and leadership. By his exceptional ability, personal initiative, and total dedication to duty, Corporal Lovell reflected credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”
After the second medal was pinned on me and the certificate handed to me, I saluted the Lieutenant Colonel, did an about face and marched back into formation, hoping no one noticed my teary eyes.
One of the reasons I teared up is the obvious overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment that overcame me. To know that someone recognized your actions was a great feeling. But the main reason was just the opposite. An award like this was supposed to be a reminder of something good but in both cases it only served to remind me of something bad. And the Commendation Medal to me was a fraud and should have never been awarded to me. I still don't believe that Iraqi posed a threat to anyone. I felt as if Ryder had the same feeling I had and used this award as sort of a bribe to keep quiet about it. But then again, maybe I was wrong about the threat. I may never really know and I still struggle with this to this day. Regardless, while I appreciated the commendations, I felt guilty wearing either one of them. If only I could know for sure. If only Pacman was alive to receive the achievement award. If only...
“If only. Those must be the two saddest words in the world.” ― Mercedes Lackey