Third ID Soldiers Awarded Purple Heart Medals

Thousands of servicemen and -women from the Coastal Empire and Low Country are in the thick of things right now in Iraq. Today, Third ID commander Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, who's home on leave, honored ten brave soldiers who were seriously wounded in the line of duty, with Purple Heart medals.

"Private First Class William C. Wilson for wounds received in action, 14 July 2007," said the announcer.

Pfc. Wilson stood as Gen. Lynch pinned on his Purple Heart medal. It was an honor he never intended to receive.

"It felt nice to be recognized," he said, "but not one of the medals I wanted to win for sure."

On July 14, Wilson's Humvee was struck by an IED. He broke his hand and shrapnel pierced his elbow.

"Immediately, everybody started asking, 'Who's okay? Who's okay?'" Wilson recalled. "I was pretty dazed. I actually thought I was fine. My sergeant kept asking me, 'Wilson? Are you okay?' and I told him, 'I'm good. It's just my elbow hurts.' They actually had to rip out the door just to get me out. I was trying to do security and that's when I realized I had blood all over my arm and my leg."

Like Wilson, Spc. Zacharie Nelson wasn't sure what happened at first. He was manning a 50-caliber machine gun on his Humvee when an IED exploded next to him. The shrapnel hit his face and neck.

"It didn't really knock me out," Nelson said. "Everything just kind of turned blue. It was like a numb feeling. I could still feel the blood dripping down my face, but I pulled myself back down into the turret, and I looked at my sergeant and said, 'I think I need to go to the hospital,' and he said, 'Yeah, you're going to the hospital.'"

Now, they're all making plans to go back to Iraq. Gen. Lynch calls it "an amazing thing."

"Magnify this by thousands," said Lynch, addressing the soldiers and their families. "These ten great soldiers who have been wounded, who stand in defense of our freedom and stay in the Army because they're convinced it's the right thing to do."

"The other half of my family is over there," explained Pfc. Wilson. "I need to go back there to make sure they come back with me. I need to make sure I do what I can to make sure they come back."

Spc. Nelson, who returns to Iraq next week, also felt it was important to go back. "To protect Americans. To protect freedom," he said.

The ten Purple Heart Recipients are:

Capt. Donald E. Smith
On January 19, 2007, while assigned to the First Battalion, Third Brigade, Third Division Mobile Iraqi Training Team and serving as an advisor to the Iraqi Army Combat Outpost in Heider, Iraq, an IED was detonated near Captain Smith's office. The blast killed the Iraqi Battalion Commander. Captain Smith sustained a concussion and puncture wounds to his face, hands and legs. He plans on staying on active duty until his retirement.

Capt. John A. Meixel
On July 17, 2007, Captain Meixel of HHC, 1-64 Armor, was conducting a zone reconnaissance with his scout platoon in Khadra, Iraq, when an IED exploded. Captain Meixel and two of his soldiers were wounded. Captain Meixel broke his left foot and right heel.

Sgt. 1st Class Anthony D. Arthur
On March 4, 2007, while serving with Alpha Troop, 5-7 Cavalry Squadron, Sergeant First Class Arthur and his soldiers were establishing a blocking position in support of Operation Northern Forge near Ramadi when an IED was detonated. Sergeant First Class Arthur fractured a bone in his left foot. He's now recovered and back with his unit's rear detachment.

Sgt. 1st Class Barton W. Owen, Jr.
Sergeant First Class Owen serves with Delta Company, First Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment. On June 26, 2007, while on Forward Operating Base Falcon, a mortar round was launched into the base, landing just five feet away from him. The shrapnel penetrated Sergeant First Class Owen, damaging one of his kidneys and his spleen. Sergeant First Class Owen is also up for a second Purple Heart after an IED exploded just a week earlier, causing his Abrams tank to roll over, knocking him unconscious. Three days later, he was back with his platoon. Sergeant First Class Owen expects to recover from his injuries in four to six months. He wants to redeploy to join the fight.

Sgt. Todd P. McKenna
Sergeant McKenna is a cavalryman with Alpha Troop, 5-7 Cavalry. On March 15, 2007, Sergeant McKenna was in the process of establishing a traffic control point for a supply route near Ramadi when the enemy set off an IED. The explosion injured Sergeant McKenna's left hand, ear drum and face. Sergeant McKenna's fourth surgery on his hand is scheduled for Monday. He hopes to be back with his unit, serving in Iraq, by the first of the year.

Spc. Zacharie A. Nelson
Specialist Nelson is a gunner for an M-1 Tank in Charlie Company, 1-64 Armor. On June 19, 2007, while conducting a routine recon in Muhalla in Baghdad, an IED blast outside Specialist Nelson's humvee sent shrapnel flying into his head and neck. Specialist Nelson's doctors recently cleared him to return to Iraq. He'll be leaving next week to continue to serve his country.

Spc. Milton M. Mitchell, Jr.
Specialist Mitchell is a cook in 3-7 Cavalry. On July 22, 2007, Specialist Mitchell was wounded while conducting a dismounted patrol in Baghdad. An insurgent threw a grenade. The shrapnel wounded his arm. Specialist Mitchell not only wants to continue to serve, he plans to become a warrant officer.

Specialist Tony E. Perry
Specialist Perry is an infantryman with 3-69 Armor. On August 9, 2007, Specialist Perry's unit was conducting a movement from Forward Operating Base Brassfield - Mora to Forward Operating Base Speicher when an IED exploded. Specialist Perry injured his back and right knee and suffered a concussion in the incident. He's staying on active duty and plans to reclassify to MOS 14J, Aviation Operations.

Pfc. Elijah C. Gregg
Private First Class Gregg is an infantryman with Bravo, Company, 1-64 Armor. He was conducting security for Camp Liberty on June 22, 2007, when a sniper's bullet hit him in the leg. Private First Class Gregg's surgery had to be postponed because of a blood clot. He's now scheduled to have surgery to remove the bullet in January.

Pfc. William C. Wilson
Private First Class Wilson is a tanker with Charlie Company, 1-30 Infantry. On July 14, 2007, in Arab Jabour, Iraq, he was injured in an IED explosion, breaking his hand and getting shrapnel in his elbow. Private First Class Wilson plans to stay in the Army after he recovers from his injuries.

Reported by: Liz Flynn, lflynn@wtoc.com