Project Hero: SGT Leandro Baptista, Silver Star Posted by: McQ
on Saturday, June 03, 2006
Today we honor SGT Leandro Baptista, USMC, who was awarded the Silver Star. A member of the 1st Reconaissance Battalion, Baptista demontrated valor and leadership during an ambush by 60 fortified insurgents. His superiors harkened his actions to something you might see in a Hollywood movie. SGT Baptista figured he was just "doing my job".
They said it was like a World War II-era movie: A Marine rushes forward under withering enemy fire, single-handedly destroys a machine-gun nest and turns the tide of the battle for his comrades.
But they also said it was real.
Marines lined up in droves at Camp Pendleton on Friday to shake the hand of former Marine Sgt. Leandro Baptista, who was awarded the Silver Star for valor for leading a counterattack against some 60 insurgents who ambushed his platoon last year near Fallujah, Iraq.
The Silver Star is the nation's third-highest military award.
"It's pure Hollywood," said Col. Rory Talkington, who led the Pendleton-based 1st Reconnaissance Battalion during the siege of Fallujah in April 2004. "What Sgt. Baptista did, what the others did that day, was just that amazing."
Baptista, 25, who is out of the Marine Corps now and was dressed in civilian clothes for the brief award ceremony Friday, stood at attention as a Marine read the award citation signed by Navy Secretary Gordon England.
"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy," the letter began.
In terms used to describe generations of heroes of American wars, the citation recounted how on April 7, 2004, 60 insurgents in fortified positions ambushed Baptista's 25-man platoon while they rode in a five-vehicle convoy just south of Fallujah.
With six men wounded and two vehicles out of action, Baptista "sprinted across a shallow canal, climbed a 10-foot berm, and charged towards the enemy."
Under fire, he knocked out one gun emplacement and grabbed three other Marines to help continue his charge.
After disarming an improvised bomb that threatened backup forces, Baptista split his men up, and the ad hoc team charged a group of 11 insurgents from two angles. Baptista killed at least four of them himself "at close range," while his team attacked the other seven, the citation said.
Marines at the ceremony said at least one Marine was killed during the 30-minute ambush and firefight.
The citation concluded that by his "bold leadership, wise judgement and complete dedication to duty" Baptista upheld the "highest traditions of the Marine Corps."
After pinning the heavy star on Baptista's shirt pocket during the ceremony Friday, Maj. Gen. Richard Natonski, the 1st Marine Division's commanding general, said that hearing the events of that day recounted "brings chills to my spine."
He said Baptista's actions were "part of the legacy of our Corps, of this division," and ranked him alongside heroes from World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
Baptista, who only left the side of his fiancee long enough to shake the hand of his former 1st Recon comrades, said he was "just doing my job."
"I'm thankful, but I really didn't want to make a big deal of this," he said after the ceremony.
"Everybody out there should be recognized," he said. "People died out there. People got wounded. Everybody did their part. I was just in the position where I had to make a decision and take charge."
An amazing story about an amazing Marine. SGT Baptista is now training to enter law enforcement. Said his new employer:"We're extremely proud," [Detective Mario] Yagoda said Friday. "We knew he had served in the Marine Corps. We knew he had been in combat. But we didn't know anything about this (award)."
PROJECT HERO is an ongoing attempt to highlight the valor of our military as they fight in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We constantly hear the negative and far to little of the positive and inspiring stories coming out of those countries. This is one small attempt to rectify that. If you know of a story of valor you'd like to see highlighted here (published on Saturday), please contact us. And we'd appreciate your link so we can spread the word.