Heroes 2006: ‘There was just no way I was leaving my boys’
Shot to the leg couldn’t get Marine out of the fight
With the typical stone-faced grit of a Marine, Staff Sgt. Anthony Viggiani is modest about how he came to be awarded the Navy Cross, the service’s highest award.
“I’m honored to receive the award,” said Viggiani, 26, now a drill instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. “But for what I did, I was just doing my job. When you hear about other citations, they did a hell of a lot more than I did.”
Regardless of how Viggiani feels about the award, the dedication to his “boys” while deployed to Afghanistan in 2004 is evident. Viggiani crept up on an enemy position and took out three fighters. And even after taking a shot to the leg, Viggiani didn’t leave his unit.
“I was like, ‘I ain’t [expletive] going nowhere,’” Viggiani said of attempts to get him first aid for his leg wound after the combat quieted down. “There was just no way I was leaving my boys.”
Viggiani’s June 3, 2004, patrol with Company C, Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit started out like many days in the Zabol Province of Afghanistan.
“We were rolling through and got intel reports to sweep a village,” he said. “And we got reports that they had spotted some guys.”
Soon, Viggiani led a squad on a chase of the insurgents, which led them into mountainous terrain that thwarted some of the technological advantages normally held by U.S. forces.
“We had no idea where our second squad was because of the mountains,” he recalled. “The radio transmissions were pretty jacked up.”
Enemy forces began firing on one of Viggiani’s teams from a well-entrenched cave position, pinning them down.
Under fire from another enemy position, Viggiani scrambled to lob a fragmentation grenade into a cave holding the forces that had trapped one of his teams with furious gunfire.
“I’ve got a rifle in my right, a frag in my left,” he said of his race down a ridge to take out the cave position. Soon, Viggiani saw a small hole leading into the cave. The enemy was close.
“I saw a cloth in there and fired three or four rounds inside,” he said. “The cloth moved, and I saw skin. I fired about three, four more rounds. Then I pulled the pin on the frag, dropped it down, took two steps and plastered myself against the rock. [Expletive] went everywhere. Cloth, blood, everything.”
Soon, machine gun fire came in Viggiani’s direction from across the way. He took a shot to the leg as he and another noncommissioned officer tried to avoid the fire. Air support soon came through and cleaned out the enemy position that had hit Viggiani.
Three to four hours after spotting the enemy forces, Viggiani’s company took out 14 enemy fighters.
Seeking medical treatment for his wound during a lull in fighting, while the enemy was still precariously close, was just not an option that day, he said.
Instead, Viggiani focused on the other guys who were injured, and how things could have been much worse.
During a Company C dinner in Rota, Spain, as the deployment was ending, Viggiani was recognized by those who knew what he had been through.
“They read what I did, and I got a standing ovation from all my peers,” he said. “That meant more than the award, because they were there with me.”
For almost a year, Viggiani has been training the next wave of Marines as a drill instructor at Parris Island.
“It’s very challenging,” he said. “But I miss the grunts.”
Viggiani still stays in touch with the team and squad leaders who were with him that day in Afghanistan.
Viggiani is reluctant to call himself a hero. “If somebody does their job, brings the boys home alive and accomplishes the mission, that’s it to me,” he said of heroism. “All of my boys, I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”
“It’s a brotherhood. When you get over there, your mom, dad, brothers and sisters, they can’t help you. It’s the man to your left and the man to your right. That’s what matters.”
Unit: Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment
Medals: Navy Cross
Earned: June 3, 2004, in Zabol Province, Afghanistan