Connellsville soldier awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroism
Jeremy R. Sherwood, 25, of Connellsville was a Marine at a forward base in Southern Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border.
“It was Sept. 28, 2011,” said Sherwood. “I'll never forget the date.”
An AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter gunship was doing an aggressive takeoff, fully armed, to keep the dust and sand at a minimum, when it ran into trouble.
“There were bamboo mats laid down to reduce the dust and sand,” said Sherwood. “They were taking off and landing (on the mats) all day.”
Something happened and one of the mats came loose as the helicopter lifted off.
“One skid (of the helicopter taking off) caught in the bamboo mat,” he said. “What is called the H2 (right) skid caught in the mat (when it came loose.) The helicopter tilted to the right, then left, right, left, right. Then it fell on its side.”
The impact of the rotor on the ground was so violent, it tore the transmission out of the helicopter. Debris smashed into the gunner's position (the forward position in the helicopter cockpit.)
“There was still debris flying around when we got to the helicopter,” Sherwood said. When they got to the gunner, he was already pale. “He was KIA (killed in action).”
There were bigger potential problems.
“The engines were still running at full-throttle,” he said.
He yelled to another Marine to pull the circuit breakers to shut the engines down. But a fire developed in one of the engines. And the gunship was carrying a full load of two Hellfire missiles, 10 Zuni rockets, 10 fleshette rockets and 500 rounds of 20 mm cannon ammunition, all armed.
Sherwood grabbed a fire bottle but it did not function. He started grabbing 16-ounce water bottles, dumping them onto the fire.
“It took about a case and a half,” he said.
Sherwood was wearing fireproof clothing, which did protect him, but he received second-degree burns on his arms and he inhaled carbon-fiber particles while working to extinguish the fire.
A Black Hawk “dustoff” medical helicopter was called to provide aid to the pilot and gunner.
“But there were 15 people still around the wreckage,” he said.
The ammunition could still explode so he used strong Marine Corps language to get them away from the site, then set up a perimeter to keep everyone out of danger.
A salvage team was sent to remove the potentially dangerous ammunition. He said it was taken out into the desert and exploded.
For his efforts, Sherwood was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism.
“For his courageous and prompt actions in the face of great personal risk Cpl. Sherwood reflected great credit upon him and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service,” the last sentence of the citation reads.
It was authorized by the President of the United States and signed by the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
The Navy web site says the following about the medal:
“The Navy and Marine Corps Medal is the second highest non-combatant medal awarded by the United States Department of the Navy to members of the United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps. The decoration was established by an act of Congress on Aug. 7, 1942. The Navy and Marine Corps Medal may be awarded to service members who, while serving in any capacity with the Navy or Marine Corps, distinguish themselves by heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy. Typically, it is awarded for actions involving the risk of one's own life.”
One famous recipient of the medal was President John F. Kennedy for his heroism during World War II while commanding PT109.
Sherwood has since been discharged.
Sherwood said his burns have healed nicely, but he suffered damage to his lungs. He sometimes finds himself winded when he climbs stairs.
He is back in Connellsville and is working for Integrated Production Services.
He said the military and the VA have treated him well, which he credits to the work of the veterans of previous wars.
Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-626-3538.