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Project Hero: SGT Willie Copeland III, Navy Cross
Posted by: McQ on Sunday, March 09, 2008


You wonder when you read something like this about how you might react if faced with the situation and odds that Marine Corps Sgt. Willie Copeland III found himself facing on a day in April of 2004. Would you find the strength and courage to do what was necessary to defeat the enemy? No one can answer that question truthfully until they're confronted by such a reality.

But, on that day, Sgt. Willie Copeland not only found the strength and courage to do what was necessary, but he went beyond the call of duty and was thus awarded the second highest award for valor - the Navy Cross.
The brave are those who recognize the path ahead and yet drive forward undeterred. On April 7, 2004, Sgt. Copeland exemplified such bravery as he and his team were traveling through the dangerous Sunni Triangle. As their 15-vehicle convoy headed toward a forward operating base in the Al Anbar Province, a large group of insurgents ambushed the convoy. Suddenly, about 40 to 60 insurgents embedded in concealed positions along the Euphrates River attacked the Marines, instantly halting the lead vehicle.

Taken aback by the sudden attack, Copeland had no time to regroup. Insurgents began raining heavy fire down upon the entire convoy, using mortar- and machine-gun fire. One shot found its mark, disabling Copeland’s Humvee. Forced to flee, Copeland led five Marines out toward the enemy fighters through an open field. Exposed and with no back-up, they trudged through a deep and muddy canal, rushing toward the enemies. Slowly, methodically, the Marines covered ground, eventually getting within hand grenade range of the enemy.

The vigor of the first assault eliminated 10 insurgents at close range while forcing others to flee. During the firefight, Copeland’s commanding officer was hit. Unwilling to subject any more Marines to danger, he signaled others to remain in covered positions as he exposed himself to fire and moved the captain to a safer location. Shielding his officer from further attacks, Copeland applied first aid and waited with him until an armored Humvee arrived to evacuate the injured Marine to a hospital.

For his leadership and actions, Copeland was awarded the Navy Cross on April 21, 2005.
Sgt. Copeland is a fine example of the type of warriors and leaders our Marine Corps trains. They personify duty, honor, bravery and courage and they are part of an organization and a tradition of which all Americans can be proud.
 

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Previously featured in "Project Hero":

1LT Brian Chontosh: Navy Cross
PFC Daniel McClenney: Silver Star
PVT Dwayne Turner: Silver Star
MSG Robert Collins & SFC Danny Hall: Silver Star
SSG William Thomas Payne: Silver Star
CPT Christoper J. Bronzi: Silver Star
SSG Charles Good: Silver Star
SR AMN Jason D. Cunningham: Air Force Cross
PFC Jeremy Church: Silver Star
SGT Leigh Ann Hester: Silver Star
CSM Ron Riling: Silver Star
CPL Jason L. Dunham: Medal of Honor
PFC Joseph Perez: Navy Cross
COL James Coffman, Jr: Distinguished Service Cross
1LT Karl Gregory: Silver Star
1LT Brian Stann: Silver Star
MSG Anthony Pryor: Silver Star
TSGT John Chapman: Air Force Cross
MSG Sarun Sar: Silver Star
1LT Jeffery Lee: Silver Star
SGT James Witkowski: Silver Star
SGT Timothy Connors: Silver Star
PO2 Juan Rubio: Silver Star
SFC David Lowe: Silver Star
SGT Leandro Baptista: Silver Star
SPC Gerrit Kobes: Silver Star
SSG Anthony Viggiani: Navy Cross
LCPL Carlos Gomez-Perez: Silver Star
MSG Donald R. Hollenbaugh: Distinguished Service Cross
SGT Jarred L. Adams: Silver Star
1LT Thomas E Cogan: Silver Star
MAJ Mark E. Mitchell: Distinguished Service Cross
CPL Robert Mitchell Jr: Navy Cross
SGT David Neil Wimberg: Silver Star
CWO3 Christopher Palumbo: Silver Star
SGT Tommy Rieman: Silver Star
SCPO Britt Slabinski: Navy Cross
LT David Halderman: FDNY - 9/11/01
1LT Stephen Boada: Silver Star
1LT Neil Prakash: Silver Star
SFC Gerald Wolford: Silver Star
SSG Matthew Zedwick: Silver Star
LCPL Christopher Adlesperger: Navy Cross
SGT Joshua Szott: Silver Star
SPC Richard Ghent: Silver Star
CPL Mark Camp: Silver Star
The Veteran
CW3 Lori Hill: Distinguished Flying Cross
SGT Paul R. Smith: Medal of Honor
PFC Ross A. McGinnis: Silver Star
SGT Joseph E. Proctor: Silver Star
PFC Christopher Fernandez: Silver Star
MAJ James Gant: Silver Star
1SG John E. Mangels: Silver Star
Staff Sgt Michael Shropshire: Silver Star
Staff Sgt Stephen Achey: Silver Star
SFC Frederick Allen: Silver Star
PO2 (SEAL) Marc A. Lee: Silver Star
PFC Stephan C. Sanders, Distinguished Service Cross
CPT Joshua Glover: Silver Star
CPT Brennan Goltry: Silver Star
Cpl. Dale A. Burger: Silver Star
CPL Clinton Warrick: Silver Star
LT (SEAL) Michael P Murphy: Medal of Honor
CW4 Keith Yoakum: Distinguished Service Cross
1LT Walter Bryan Jackson: Distinguished Service Cross
SGT Rafael Peralta, USMC: nominee, Medal of Honor
SSG Timothy Nein: Distinguished Service Cross

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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.
 
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Sgt. Copeland showed particular bravery in this case. I must also note the bravery of the rest of the Marines here. Every instinct must’ve been screaming at them to run away, but when ambushed, the best way to survive is to head right into the teeth of it. These guys knew that, and had the courage to execute it.
 
Written By: Edward Roberts
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