A Marine who did what Marines are trained to do was presented with a medal for bravery Monday for his actions in Afghanistan.
At a ceremony at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall, Maj. Gen. Melvin Spiese pinned the Silver Star on the dress uniform of David Gerardi, 22, who saved his fellow Marines from death during a five-hour firefight in Helmand Province on June 6, 2011.
Gen. Spiese said whenever he has given out medals to Marines in the past, they always say the same thing: "I was simply doing my job."
So it was with Sgt. Gerardi, a Fox Chapel Area High School graduate whose parents now live in Moon.
Spotlighted by TV cameras, he choked back tears, thanked his family and then deflected attention from himself and onto fellow Marines he called his brothers who had traveled to see him get the third-highest medal for valor.
"I've been blessed to serve with the best Marines and soldiers," he said. "I've had the best leadership that taught me everything leading up to that gunfight."
Sgt. Gerardi, a sniper who has since joined the Army National Guard's 19th Special Forces Group, credited Marine training for his courage, saying he merely did what "made sense" at the time.
"We spend a lot of time preparing for a situation like that," he said.
Sgt. Gerardi, then a corporal with the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion in the Upper Sangin Valley, almost single-handedly fended off an ambush by enemy fighters who fired on the Marines from four positions with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
This is what happened, according to a Marine summary:
One squad of Marines, Team 1, was pinned down in a canal by enemy fighters about 100 meters away. The team couldn't return fire or recover an injured Afghan soldier.
Sgt. Gerardi, whose Team 2 provided protection for the first team, ran directly toward Team 1 and took cover behind a mud wall. From about 40 meters away, enemy fighters opened fire on him with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and a Russian-made AGS-17 grenade launcher.
Sgt. Gerardi left his position for a lower wall, leaving him more vulnerable but better able to shoot.
With rounds "cracking literally within inches of his head," he "quickly and calmly" located the enemy machine gunner through a hole in the compound wall and killed him with three rounds from his sniper rifle.
Team 1 members took advantage of the lull in the shooting to recover the hurt Afghan soldier, but remained pinned down when the enemy fired explosive rounds that sprayed them with debris.
Sgt. Gerardi continued to fire while another team member called in an airstrike.
He then left cover again, grabbed a rocket launcher and fired it at two holes in the compound wall from which the enemy fighters were shooting. With those fighters dead, Team 1 was then able to shoot back and provide medical treatment for the wounded Afghan.
When another Marine unit came under fire, Sgt. Gerardi spotted the enemy shooter along a tree line and killed him with a single shot from his sniper rifle.
Soon after that, U.S. pilots dropped a guided bomb while artillery rockets struck the enemy compound, allowing the Marines to retreat as night fell.
Erik Edwards, a 22-year-old Navy ensign who played sniper games with Sgt. Gerardi when they were kids growing up in Fox Chapel, attended the ceremony in his Navy whites.
He said his friend has a love of the Marine Corps brotherhood.
"It doesn't surprise me that he did what he did," he said.
Maj. Gen. Spiese said Sgt. Gerardi proved himself under fire and honored the 237-year tradition of the Marines.
"Well done," he said, "and Semper Fidelis."
Distributed by MCT Information Services