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Lance Cpl. Christina Humphrey receives a Purple Heart at a Camp Courtney, Okinawa, ceremony on Sept. 23 for wounds she suffered in Iraq after the truck in which she was riding was attacked by a suicide car bomber. The 22-year-old is a motor transport operator with Truck Company, Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division.
Lance Cpl. Christina Humphrey receives a Purple Heart at a Camp Courtney, Okinawa, ceremony on Sept. 23 for wounds she suffered in Iraq after the truck in which she was riding was attacked by a suicide car bomber. The 22-year-old is a motor transport operator with Truck Company, Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division. (C. Warren Peace / U.S. Marine Corps)

CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa — Christina Humphrey and Lynn Beasley look like typical women in their early 20s — young, energetic and full of life. But what you can’t see by simply looking is how close they came to losing their lives while serving their country in Iraq.

Camp Hansen Marines Humphrey and Beasley have earned Purple Heart medals for injuries they received while deployed to Iraq as lance corporals in March.

The two Marines were motor transportation operators, or “truck drivers,” Beasley said, with Truck Company, Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division. They deployed along with two platoons and were sent to the outskirts of Fallujah.

“They had just opened up entry control points [ECPs] and wanted females to search the women and children because of cultural sensitivities,” said Humphrey, from Chico, Calif., who has since been promoted to corporal.

The women had some close calls while standing duty. Humphrey said she once was pinned down during a firefight at one of the points with bullets striking the ground a foot away on both sides of her. Another close call came several days later, she said, when a man attempted to pull her into a frenzied crowd by the barrel of her rifle.

On June 23, the team’s luck ran out. As the team left an ECP for the home base via convoy, a car bomber rammed the seven-ton truck they were riding in and detonated his improvised bomb. Five Marines and one sailor died in the explosion and another 13 servicemembers were wounded, Humphrey said. Three of the dead were women.

“I don’t remember a lot … I don’t know if I blacked out, or my subconscious won’t let me, but I don’t remember everything that happened,” said Beasley, who is from Minooka, Ill. “I do remember opening my eyes and the flames were right there. I thought to myself ‘I hope I’m not burning,’ but I knew I was.”

The explosion rolled the truck onto its side, Humphrey said. She, too, remembers only portions of the attack.

“I remember tucking and rolling” as the truck flipped over, Humphrey said. “Then there was a second explosion from the truck’s gas tank.”

Humphrey said the survivors of the blast gathered at a wall when another truck in the convoy full of infantry Marines pulled up and loaded the wounded into a trailer.

“Some people were burned so bad their skin was coming off their arms,” Humphrey said. “One girl’s face was burned so bad you could see her skull, and one girl’s hands had no skin.”

Humphrey received several minor burns, a concussion, injured back and temporary loss of sight in her right eye. She said her sight has improved but is “messed up” when she’s stressed out, and she now gets migraine headaches.

Beasley’s injuries were more severe: burns to her face and legs, bruised ribs, perforated eardrums and several shrapnel wounds.

“I have special garments I have to wear on my legs for the next two years, and I can’t be exposed to direct sunlight,” she said. “I also still have some shrapnel that will eventually work its way out.”

Beasley was evacuated out, along with several other women, and ended up at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. She spent about three weeks there before going home to Illinois for a month. She returned to Okinawa last Wednesday and saw Humphrey again for the first time since the attack — a meeting at which Humphrey returned to Beasley a very special necklace.

“When I last saw her (in Iraq), I grabbed her hand and told her not to take it off until I saw her again,” Beasley said. During an interview on Oct. 3 — two days before the women were reunited — Humphrey proudly showed off the necklace around her neck.

Both women received Purple Heart medals for their injuries, and Humphrey was awarded a Navy-Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Combat “V” for the checkpoint firefight.

“It’s not like I’m proud of it — it’s not a medal you really want to get, but if you do, you accept it and move on,” Beasley said.

“It doesn’t matter what medals you have on,” Humphrey said. “I’d give all those medals back just to get my friends back.”

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