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Marine receives Purple Heart 16 years after fighting in Fallujah with a bullet wound

Marine Capt. Kevin Leishman receives a Purple Heart from Brig. Gen. Kyle Ellison, commander of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, at Camp Courtney, Okinawa, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021.

MATTHEW M. BURKE/STARS AND STRIPES

By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 25, 2021

CAMP COURTNEY, Okinawa — A Purple Heart caught up with Marine Capt. Kevin Leishman on Wednesday, more than 16 years after he bandaged a bullet wound and kept on fighting on the streets of Fallujah, Iraq.

A staff sergeant back in November 2004, Leishman was putting down fire with his M240 machine gun while prone atop an amphibious assault vehicle when a ricocheting bullet lodged in the muscle of his right forearm, he told Stars and Stripes at his award presentation.

“I know I’m getting a lot of attention today, but I don’t believe I have any unique blend of courage that isn’t shared by everybody here,” Leishman said. “I was at the right time at the right place and did what I needed to do.”

During the ceremony in the Camp Courtney theater, Marines barked the occasional “rah” or “oorah” to punctuate remarks by Brig. Gen. Kyle Ellison, commander of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, who awarded Leishman his Purple Heart.

Ellison pushed for Leishman, a native of St. Ignatius, Mont., to receive the medal after hearing his story.

“It’s days like this that remind me of why I love being a United States Marine,” Ellison told the 20 or so Marines in attendance. Leishman “represents now hundreds of others who wear that same award on their chests every single day and some who didn’t return.”

“It takes men and women who are special to do what we do,” he said.

In Fallujah, Leishman’s wound eventually became infected and he worked the bullet out himself over several days. Then the wound healed.

At the time, he was attached to 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, his medical records were not immediately available, and the record of his wounding was temporarily lost, he said.

“We had a lot going on and this wasn’t losing a limb or anything, so I didn’t push it, obviously,” he said. “It finally made its way through.”

The oversight was recognized when Leishman, now the anti-terrorism force protection officer with the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, arrived on Okinawa less than two years ago.

His wife, Amy Leishman, and their three children, were present, along with the Marines who sat socially distanced from one another, wearing masks, due to coronavirus safety protocols.

Following a brief prayer and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Ellison honored Leishman for having the courage to move “towards the sound of guns.”

Leishman had deployed to Iraq in May 2004 with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, a Marine statement announcing his award Friday said. After the Battle of An-Najaf in August, his assault vehicle platoon was sent north to aid in the push into Fallujah to retake control of that city.

The tank and assault vehicle platoons provided supporting fire and evacuated casualties during the house-to-house fighting that marked the battle.

Ellison called the Second Battle of Fallujah “our generation’s Hue City,” a reference to the 1968 battle during the Vietnam War that was marked by fierce urban combat. Leishman said he developed tunnel-vision to cope with the scenes of war around him.

He accepted the award with a handshake and in his remarks honored the thousands of coalition troops and U.S. Marines who fought at Fallujah.

The Purple Heart is America’s oldest military medal in continuous use. George Washington initiated the award as the Badge of Military Merit in 1782. It is given to troops wounded or killed in action.

Leishman said the Purple Heart teaches us to “be truly appreciative of every breath you wake and take in this day.” He ended with a line from “Forrest Gump,” a 1994 film that touched on one man’s experience in Vietnam.

“They said it was a million dollar wound,” Leishman said, “but the Marine Corps must keep that money 'cause I still haven't seen a nickel of that.”

burke.matt@stripes.com
Twitter: @MatthewMBurke1

Marine Capt. Kevin Leishman, anti-terrorism force protection officer for the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, received the Purple Heart at Camp Courtney, Okinawa, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, 16 years after he was shot during the Second Battle of Fallujah in Iraq.
MATTHEW M. BURKE/STARS AND STRIPES