Capt. Brent L. Morel
May 21, 2005; Submitted on: 05/31/2005 04:33:29 PM ; Story ID#: 2005531163329
By Lance Cpl. Miguel A. Carrasco Jr. , MCB Camp Pendleton
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (May 21, 2005) -- Faced with continual enemy fire from more than 50 insurgents, Capt. Brent L. Morel - by all accounts a "Marine's Marine" - led an assault across an open field with a handful of Marines following closely behind.
Where most would be looking for cover, Morel's assault was aimed at saving others - not himself - according to battlefield accounts.
Consequently, Morel, a platoon commander with 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, posthumously received the Navy Cross - the Department of the Navy's second-highest award for combat valor - Saturday during a ceremony that drew hundreds at the Marine Forces Reserve Training Center here.
It was the second Navy Cross awarded in less than two months to a 1st Recon Bn. Marine for combat actions April 7, 2004, during the first offensive in Fallujah as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The other went to Sgt. Willie L. Copeland III, who fought alongside Morel that day.
"My last memories of (Morel) will always be as a Marine who led a team to fight in the direction of the bullets," said Copeland, who received his Navy Cross April 21 at Camp Pendleton.
The two awards are among nine Navy Crosses awarded to U.S. servicemembers for heroism during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Morel's award was presented to his wife, Amy.
"Although I would rather have him receive the award in person, I am glad to see that his brave actions did not go unnoticed," Amy said, clutching the medal in her hand.
Several Marines who fought with Morel were on hand for the presentation - including Copeland.
"That was the type of Marine Morel was - he led from the front," said Copeland, a team leader with 2nd Platoon, Company B, 1st Recon Bn, which Morel commanded.
"He was a personal mentor of mine, so I was constantly trying to obtain knowledge from him any way I could."
Morel's self-sacrifice came as no surprise, Copeland said.
"No medal or award can make up for the loss of a good Marine, but as a recon Marine, (Morel) knew that his life was on the line every day - and he was always proud of it," Copeland added.
Although Morel, 27, of Martin, Tenn., had been in the recon community for only a short amount of time, he made his mark among an elite crowd, Copeland said.
The award honored a "man amongst giants," said Mike Morel, Brent's father.
Morel left behind no children. "We had two dogs. They were our babies and I know they miss Brent," Amy said, trying to hold back tears.
Also during the ceremony -- held at the offices of Morel's first unit, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment ---- a life-like bronze statue of Morel was unveiled.
"The statue looked so real, right down to the scar he got while he was in boot camp," said Molly Morel, Brent's mother.
The statue will be placed in the library of the University of Tennessee at Martin.
"The library is where me and my husband met, so it is only fitting that his statue be kept there to inspire those who pass it by," Amy said.
"He was a great man. It may sound cheesy, but all the memories of Brent were fond ones," Amy said. "He was a spontaneous person.
Three weeks before he left to Iraq, we went to San Francisco out of the blue. I am glad we were able to go because that is one more memory I will always have of him," she said.
Morel was the only Marine with 1st Recon Bn. killed in action during OIF II, said Sgt. Maj. Richard P. Lamelin, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion sergeant major.
Capt. Brent Morel, Leading the Charge
On Nov. 21, 1864 , President Abraham Lincoln wrote an unforgettable letter to a grieving mother he had been informed had lost five lost sons fighting to defend the Union and preserve our way of life:
To Mrs. Bixby, Boston Mass.
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant general of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the republic they died to save. I pray that our heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours very sincerely and respectfully,
The words and emotion of President Lincoln's letter are a perfect lead into the story of our tenth Navy Cross hero.
On May 21, 2005, at the offices of Company K, 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve, Marine Corps Training Center in Memphis, Tenn., the nation's second highest medal for battlefield valor, the Navy Cross, was presented to Amy Morel, wife of U.S. Marine Capt. Brent L. Morel, with the words:
"The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the NAVY CROSS posthumously to Captain Brent L. Morel for service as set forth in the following CITATION:
"For extraordinary heroism as Platoon Commander, 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Central Command in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM on 7 April 2004."
This Navy Cross was the first one presented posthumously for actions in support of our global war on terrorism. It was also only the second Navy Cross (of ten total so far) presented to an officer (see "A Marine's Marine, (First in a Series)," DefenseWatch , June 3, 2004 ).
The location of the ceremony was significant for it was Capt Morel's very first unit after completing boot camp, and it is near his hometown of Martin , Tenn. During the ceremony, a life-sized bronze bust of Capt. Morel in helmet and protective vest was unveiled. Chris Landry, national project director of Statues of Servicemen, which provided the bust, said the statues will be placed in universities, "So students can walk up 50 years from now and say, "I remember that war. He must have been one of the men that went and kicked the terrorists' butts.' "
If the opening sentence of this citation sounds familiar, that is because Capt. Morel was the commanding officer mentioned in Sgt. Willie L. Copeland III's Navy Cross citation (see "Running into Bullets: A Marine NCO's Valor," DefenseWatch , July 15, 2005 ). Yes, the same small reconnaissance unit had two Navy Cross heroes. The citation continues:
"Captain Morel's platoon escorted a convoy into the Al Anbar Province when 40 to 60 insurgents in well-fortified and concealed positions initiated an ambush. Witnessing a rocket-propelled grenade crippling his lead vehicle and while mortar and machine gun fire erupted, he ordered his remaining two vehicles to secure a flanking position. Captain Morel left his vehicle and led a determined assault across an open field and up a ten-foot berm, in order to maneuver into firing positions. The boldness of this first assault eliminated several insurgents at close range forcing their retreat."
From accounts of this ambush I have read, Capt Morel was in the second vehicle (of his platoon's five vehicles) and saw his lead vehicle crippled with all its Marines wounded. Instantly, Morel ordered his platoon to "Stop and dismount!" He instinctively knew their only hope was to assault the well-planned ambush positions. The last two platoon vehicles, which were not in the kill zone, moved and established flanking positions to cover Morel's assault. Capt Morel personally led the charge over several roadside berms and across a chest-deep canal. In this confrontation of tactical superiority versus decisive leadership, tactical superiority faded away. Morel's citation states:
"Observing his Marines pinned down from enemy fire, Captain Morel left the safety of his position and continued the assault, eliminating the enemy's attack. During this valiant act, he fell mortally wounded by a withering burst of enemy automatic weapons fire."
Positioned behind the last berm before the ambush positions, and with his two vehicle flanking position element in place, Capt. Morel issued his last order to his men: "Cover me. We're assaulting through." Inspired by their captain, Morel's Marines destroyed the ambush. The terrorists lost at least 30 men in this ambush, and our nation gained and lost a hero. The citation went on:
"By his outstanding display of decisive leadership, unlimited courage in the face of heavy enemy fire, and utmost devotion to duty, Captain Morel reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service."
To fully understand and appreciate this last sentence, let me share with you some insights into the character and leadership of Capt. Morel from an article in the July 2004 edition of American Association of Nurse Anesthetists NewsBulletin , an interview with Mike Morel, Capt. Morel's father.
"After Brent's death, [Mike] Morel spoke to the father of one of his son's men and was astonished to learn that each soldier is allotted a certain number of minutes to use on the phone each day. 'I told this other father that Brent doesn't call home much, and he said that's because Brent was giving his minutes to his men so they could speak with their loved ones a little longer.' "
"Mike recalled a story told to him by a fellow soldier of Brent's that sums up the way the young Morel felt about his men. Apparently Brent and his commander were having words about what activities his troops would engage in next, and unable to come to an agreement, Capt. Morel was overheard saying, 'Sir, these are my men, I am the commander of these men, and you will not mess over them, sir.' His troops would later frame those words and present the plaque to Brent."
"The day Brent was killed, an instinctual foreboding nagged at both parents until the military informed them of their son's passing early the next morning. 'There was a knock at the door at 3 a.m. I opened it, looked at the three Marines standing in front of me and said, "You're going to tell me my son is dead," and they said, 'Yes, sir.' Upon hearing the answer, many questions swirled through Morel's head, but the first he actually verbalized was as follows, 'I asked the men was he in the front? They answered yes. I always knew that's where he would be.' "
I do not ever anticipate experiencing firsthand the tremendous responsibilities of being the commander-in-chief of our armed forces, especially during wartime. Likewise, I can only imagine what it must be like for a father to lose his son in combat. Just as Lincoln's letter has given me reason to pause and reflect, so too have Mike Morel's words about the meanings of his son's sacrifice led me to serious introspection about life, faith and death. According to the article on May 27, 2005 , by Rita Mitchell from the University of Tennessee at Martin - Capt. Morel's alma mater - his father's perspectives are heroic in their significance to all who love our country and support our troops:
"Even though this has been a very difficult time, we are comforted to know that Brent is in a better place, free from conflict, worry and pain. He paid the ultimate price as a Marine, but now has received the most precious gift. I know what he was doing was noble and right. It was what he had been trained to do and something he chose to do. The best way to honor Brent and all our veterans is to believe in his cause and support those who carry on."
- Associated Press