By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
July 19, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates paid an emotional tribute last night to one of the Marine Corps' fallen heroes of the war in Iraq. At the end of his speech at the Marine Corps Association annual dinner in Arlington, Va., Gates talked about the Marine who became known as "The Lion of Fallujah."
The secretary's remarks follow:
"On one wall of my conference room there is a large, framed photo of a Marine company commander taken during the first battle of Fallujah, in April 2004. He's speaking into a radio handset while giving directions to his men as combat rages just blocks away. It's a shot that could have been taken of any number of Marines in any number of places over the last century - at Tarawa, at Inchon, or of Lieutenant Peter Pace at Hue, in 1968.
"During that Fallujah battle, Captain Douglas Zembiec and some men from his Echo Company were on a rooftop drawing rocket-propelled grenades from all directions. They tried to radio a tank crew for support but couldn't get through. Zembiec raced out onto the street through withering fire, climbed onto the tank, and directed the gunner where to shoot.
"After the battle, he said that his Marines had 'fought like lions,' and he was soon himself dubbed 'the Lion of Fallujah.' He was an unabashed and unashamed warrior, telling one reporter that 'killing is not wrong if it's for a purpose, if it's to keep your nation free or to protect your buddy.'
"Zembiec's battalion operations officer described him as someone who 'goes out every day and creates menacing dilemmas for the enemy.' A newspaper profile at the time described him as a 'balding, gregarious man who, in glasses, looks like a high school science teacher.'
"After returning from Iraq, Doug was promoted and given a desk job at the Pentagon. He chafed at the assignment, volunteered to deploy again, and was sent back to Iraq earlier this year. This time, he would not return -- to his country or to his wife, Pamela, and his 1-year old daughter.
"In May, the Lion of Fallujah was laid to rest at Arlington (National Cemetery) and memorialized at his alma mater in Annapolis. The crowd of more than 1,000 included many enlisted Marines from his beloved Echo Company. An officer there told a reporter: 'Your men have to follow your orders; they don't have to go to your funeral.'
"Every evening, I write notes to the families of young Americans like Doug Zembiec. For you and for me they are not names on a press release or numbers updated on a web page, they are our country's sons and daughters. They are in a tradition of service that includes you and your forebears going back to the earliest days of the republic.
"God bless you, the Marine Corps, the men and women of our armed forces, and the country we have all sworn to defend."