Famous French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “Valor is a gift. Those having it never know for sure whether they have it till the test comes.”
In a ceremony at Lance Cpl. Torrey L. Gray Field Thursday, a Marine who was tested in the heat of battle received the highest award for valor given by the Department of the Navy, the Navy Cross Medal, and was meritoriously promoted to the rank of corporal.
Cpl. Richard S. Weinmaster, a Squad Automatic Weapon gunner with 3rd Platoon, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, received the award for his actions as a private first class in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province on July 8, 2008 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
According to his platoon commander, 1st Lt. George Fenton, Weinmaster, a Cozad, Neb., native, was in front of a squad-sized patrol making its way through an eight-foot wide alley bordered on each side by 10-foot tall mud-brick walls, dubbed “ambush alley,” when their patrol was attacked by enemy small-arms fire and grenades.
In the midst of the firefight, Weinmaster provided accurate suppressive fire with his SAW until he noticed an incoming grenade land near his team leader, Lance Cpl. Tyler Wilkerson.
Fenton, a Fredericksburg, Va., native, explained how Weinmaster shoved Wilkerson out of the way then jumped toward the grenade to try and smother the blast. As he jumped, the grenade exploded sending the majority of its shrapnel into Weinmaster.
Weinmaster effectively shielded his team leader from the blast and Wilkerson was spared from any shrapnel. Weinmaster, however, received serious wounds, including a piece of shrapnel that entered his left eye socket and traveled halfway into his brain, where it remains to this day.
Despite his grave injuries, Weinmaster re-mounted his SAW and continued to provide effective suppressive fire on the enemy positions 50 yards away.
Staff Sgt. Kyle Lockhart, Weinmaster’s former platoon sergeant, said Weinmaster’s heroic actions in the heat of battle are a true reflection of his caliber.
Lockhart said for a Marine two-and-a-half months into his first deployment who has been in the Marine Corps for just a year to show such heroism is proof real valor and selflessness remain in the heart of Marines everywhere.
“Valor has to come from the heart and soul,” said Jim Weinmaster, Cpl. Weinmaster’s father. “It has to come from within. Karen [Weinmaster’s mother] and I raised him as best as we could, but actions like that go beyond parenting, beyond anything that can be taught.”
Weinmaster remained humble throughout the ceremony as well as afterward when he was greeted and thanked by scores of Marines, former Marines and grateful civilians.
“I didn’t do anything special,” he told everyone. “Everyone on my left and right would have done the same thing. I was just in the right place at the right time.”
Fenton and Lockhart agreed, saying that their platoon was full of Marines who would have done the same if given the opportunity, but both also emphasized the fact Weinmaster was given the opportunity and he acted in total disregard for his own safety to save another Marine’s life.
His devotion and selflessness earned Weinmaster the Navy Cross, although he maintains he was “just doing his job.”