WASHINGTON — Cpl. Jason Clairday was always the first Marine into the fight.

"I never saw him walking behind someone else," said Cpl. Richard Laster, who served as a private under Clairday during the second battle of Fallujah, Iraq. "He never told someone else to go in and he’d hang back. He was always up front."

On Dec. 12, 2004, Clairday was leading his men into an insurgent stronghold when he was shot in the legs. He pressed on, guiding his men though the building and insisting on heading the pack until he was struck by another volley of bullets, this time fatal.

Last month the Corps recognized Clairday as one of its greatest heroes, posthumously awarding him the Navy Cross for his courage and leadership during the battle. Laster said those actions were not a surprise to him.

"He always led by example," Laster said. "If we had a post to guard or a position to dig in, he was out front getting dirty.

"He’s working so hard that I’m saying to myself, ‘Now I’ve gotta make myself even better than he is.’ So we all worked harder, and that made us into better leaders."

The unit was part of the security force during the battle to retake Fallujah in fall 2004, and was conducting security sweeps in December to help root out the remaining cells of insurgents hiding throughout the city.

On the day he was killed, Clairday’s fire team was backing assault squads when they received news that several Marines were cornered inside a house. According to Corps reports, he lead his men up an adjacent building and was the first to leap across a 4-foot gap — in full combat gear — to get to the trapped men.

From there he threw several grenades into the house and charged in. Laster said he saw him take only a few steps before going down in a heap.

"He started crawling back out while returning fire," Laster said. "We figured he must not have been hit too bad, but we knew he got hit. I heard him say later there was a wall of bullets that he ran into."

The men regrouped, tossed in some more explosives and pulled out the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. Clairday and his gunner took position in the doorway and killed their attackers with the heavy weaponry.

Corps reports said Clairday ignored instructions to get medical assistance and continued to sweep through the building with his men, clearing each room. Laster said when they reached a back bedroom, the squad leader again insisted he took the lead.

"He was hit as soon as he went in the room," he said. "Everybody knew this time it was much worse."

Laster and the other men pulled him back out and managed to eliminate the heavily fortified insurgents. They rushed Clairday back out to the medics, and called in an airstrike to take out arriving enemy reinforcements.

Before that air support arrived, Clairday died from his wounds.

The Arkansas native, just 21 when he died, was the 18th Marine in the war in Iraq to receive the award, second only to the Medal of Honor. Laster, who spoke at a service for Clairday last month, called him a daily inspiration for all of his men.

"He’s someone for other Marines to look up to," Laster said. "That’s a person you want to be. That’s how a Marine is supposed to fight."

Cpl. JasonClairday

Unit:Company K, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines

Medal:Navy Cross

Earned:Dec. 12, 2004, in Fallujah, Iraq


Heroes 2007Read more stories about valor in the fight against terrorism here, or download the 2007 Heroes special section in PDF form here.

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