The first post in this series isn't one that I would exactly call 'obscure'. Although the story has been told in email forwards and you can easily find it online, I doubt it was in many newspapers outside his hometown and it's never been on the national news from what I can tell.
This is the story of Brian Chontosh. He's a Marine officer. At the time of the war he was a 1st Lt. When I met him, he was a Captain.
Twentynine Palms, CA...Marines just call it 'The Stumps'. It's the home of MCAGCC (Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center). It's a place I've been half a dozen times. I went there for MOS School (Military Occupational Specialty School) in 1999 and I've also had the wonderful misfortune of going there another 5 times to partake in CAX (Combined Arms eXercises). CAX is an annual joint forces exercise where you become very intimate with your MOS in the desert...meanwhile there's a mock war going on all around you with tanks and jets and stuff. It's pretty cool and it truly is great desert training.
Because CAX is a combined arms exercise, the scale of the operation is larger than what one communications unit can do. Therefore, we not only utilize our equipment, but we sign out equipment from the base to use with ours. The downside is that we need to clean more equipment when it's all said and done. Cleaning equipment after a CAX is never fun. It's long hours and you have to be meticulous, but the worst part is that the gear has to be inspected before it is accepted and checked back in. So if the inspector is having a bad day, he can turn away your entire inventory if he finds one handset to still have dust in it.
So there we were in a giant staging area (aka parking lot) with all of our gear. The sun was a roasting 110 degrees and we were just breaking for lunch (or as Marines call it, chow). My marines and I were hanging out under an awning to escape a little bit of sun and this Marine walks up to us and starts talking. Obviously, we knew he was a Captain, so we treated him as such and began swapping war stories. The extent of his war story was, "Yeah, we saw some action. My Marines and I got ambushed a couple of times. We did alright though."
That was that. He told us to keep cool and have fun. Shortly after he left, another Marine came up to us and asked if we knew who that guy was. Obviously we had no clue. He proceeded to tell us this story (only with a lot more swear words)...
courtesy of vetsforfreedom.org :
On March 25, 2003, (then) First Lieutenant Chontosh, recognized his unit was caught in a “kill zone” on Highway One leading to Ad Diwaniyah in the initial campaign to Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
After punching his vehicle through a breech, he was immediately taken under withering machine gun fire from a crew served weapon in a trench. Chontosh plowed toward the machine gunner, trusting his .50 caliber gunner to silence the enemy, which was done almost immediately. Chontosh then dismounted his vehicle and armed with only his M16A2 and a M9 pistol began to systematically clear the trench that his vehicle was now inside.
With a complete disregard for his own personal safety, Chontosh twice picked up discarded enemy rifles and continued his ferocious attack. When one of his Marines following behind found an RPG, Chontosh decided to personally use it to destroy another unlucky clump of enemy soldiers thinking they could overpower the brazen Marine.
When his dedicated and bold personal attack had ended, he had cleared over 200 meters of the enemy trench and lying behind him and at his feet were the remains of over 20 enemy fighters. For these actions, Brian Chontosh was awarded the second highest award given for combat valor, The Navy Cross.
The man standing next to Captain Chontosh is General Hagee, the Commandant of the Marine Corps.