Palmetto sailor earns Purple Heart for Iraq service


Special to the Daily World


Photo by Russell C. Tafuri


Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan D. Bryant, right, is awarded the Purple Heart on Friday from Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael G. Mullen at Pensacola Naval Air Station.     


 PENSACOLA, Fla. - Palmetto native and 2001 North Central High School graduate Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan D. Bryant earned the Purple Heart on Friday during an admiral's call at Pensacola Naval Air Station.


Bryant, a hospital corpsman, received the decoration, one of the world's oldest military decorations still in use today, for injuries sustained in combat in May 2004 during his second tour of duty as a front-line Navy corpsman with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. He was wounded while attending to injured Marines during an elongated gun battle in western Iraq. Four Marines were killed.


This sailor's action "says a lot about the Navy and Marine Corps team," said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Mullen, who presented the Purple Heart. "There's no more responsible group, especially while in the field (with the Marines) than that of hospital corpsmen. The Marines you served with will remember you for years to come."


"I want to tell you how grateful we are that you raised your son so well," Mullen said, addressing Bryant's parents - Randy and Renee. The Bryants helped him join the Navy.


Bryant, better known as "Doc" to the more than 40 Marines in the 4th Platoon, was armed with a medical bag to administer sutures, bandages, pressure dressings or "whatever I could to keep control of their injuries" until a Black Hawk medical evacuation helicopter arrived to take them to the nearest aide station, he said.


He was armed with a 9 mm pistol and an M-16A4 rifle - like the Marines in his platoon. All total, he carried about 87 pounds of gear as the platoon patrolled.


Bryant went everywhere with the platoon. He administered medical care to the wounded and performed the missions of the platoon - including setting up observation posts, performing random vehicle and house searches - always on the lookout for anything suspicious.


"I would do everything they (Marines) would do. I'm basically a Marine with a Navy nameplate is what they used to tell me," he said. "The only difference was that I have the medical knowledge."


On May 14, 2004, the 4th Platoon, was patrolling the streets of Husaybah, Iraq, a town on the Syrian border about 250 miles from Baghdad. It was hit by an explosion and 14-hour exchange of gunfire, which resulted in casualties and injuries, including those of the Navy corpsman.


"I was in the middle of the patrol behind the first fire team when we came upon this damaged brick wall. We didn't know it ... but there was an IED (improvised explosive device) behind the wall," he said. "As we reached the wall, the IED detonated and the first fire team disappeared in ... a blanket of smoke. After the dust settled, I ran to the aid of my fellow Marines to help with their wounds and assist with medical evacuations."


Hours later, back at the base camp after reporting to his senior corpsman, was it realized that Bryant had been hit in the blast.


"I saw dried blood covering my right hand. I raised my sleeve (and) found where I was hit with shrapnel on my arm," he said. "I didn't really notice it right away. I was concerned with taking care of my Marines" - who are like family, according to Bryant.


"We all watched out for each other all the time. We'd joke around during down-time, but we'd get the job done together when we were on patrol. They were the only people you'd have to count on and trust. We didn't have anything else over there but each other," he said.


This "family" idea is what Bryant appreciates most from his Iraq deployment experience, but the harsh reality of the job at hand is a memory of a different sort.


"There were four guys I considered like family who were killed while I was there. One died as I was giving him CPR. His injuries were too much for him, and there was nothing I could do," he said.


The desire to serve on another deployment with the Marines still is with this sailor.


"Sometimes, I wonder how I'm alive ... but I thank God and know I had people praying for me; and I was praying too," Bryant said. "If given the chance to go back - I would."


Bryant is stationed at Naval Hospital Pensacola's Family Practice Clinic, and is gearing up to deploy again next month.


Originally published August 22, 2005