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Lance Cpl Erin Liberty/ Purple Heart Recipient Another profile in courage

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Posted 06 October 2005 - 05:23 PM
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U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Erin Liberty, an ammunition technician with Ammunition Company, 2nd Supply Battalion, 2nd Force Service Support Group, sustained several injuries when an improvised explosive device blew up near her convoy near Camp Fallujah, Iraq, June 23. The native of Niceville, Fla., received a Purple Heart. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Matthew K. Hacker

Lance Cpl. Erin Liberty

Purple Heart Recipient Describes Attack

By Lance Cpl. Matthew K. Hacker
2nd Force Service Support Group
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C., Oct. 6, 2005 — It was June 23, 2005, when 20 Marines boarded a seven-ton truck and began their treacherous journey back to Camp Fallujah, Iraq. What happened a short distance down the road is something that has, and will, continue to change their lives forever.

Sitting in the second to last seat in the back, on the right side of the truck, was Lance Cpl. Erin Liberty of Niceville, Fla., an ammunition technician with Ammunition Company, 2nd Supply Battalion, 2nd Force Service Support Group. She remembers talking with the female Seabee next to her, when a series of combined explosions violently lifted the truck from both sides.

“When it blew up, we all flew back and then forward again in our seats,? said Liberty. “I looked at the girl next to me and saw her bounce up and down in the flames. I just closed my eyes and waited for it to end. I felt myself being thrown in the air, but my eyes remained shut. When I impacted the ground, I realized nothing hurt. I felt everything that was happening, but it was like there was a bubble around me, because when I hit the ground and woke up, I felt no pain. I looked at my hands and saw the skin hanging off my left pinky finger, but it still didn't hurt. Not then. ?

On the ground and covered in dust, she knew it was an improvised explosive device. Later, Liberty said she learned it was constructed of five, 155-millimeter incendiary rounds and a few propane tanks. They had gone off about six feet from each side of the truck.

Trying to recover from the concussion and the ringing in her ears, she looked over and saw the Seabee she had spoken too just seconds before the blast.

“She was lying next to me, unconscious,? Liberty added. “I tried to pull her away from ground zero, but there was a firefight happening at the same time, so a few guys pulled me off and threw me against the wall. I wanted to go back for her, but the way the truck was positioned, it rolled over on top of her before I could.?

After the firefight died down and the injured Marines and sailors were recovered, they loaded onto another vehicle and headed straight for the Battalion Aid Station at Camp Fallujah, said Liberty.

“We then just jumped on another seven-ton and drove away,? Liberty said. “We all just sat there in silence, except for the sounds of discomfort and pain. I can still see the people with their skin hanging off of them. I remember seeing this girl with blood all over her flak jacket and the skin on her fingers falling off. Then, suddenly the silence broke, when a girl in the back of the truck started singing, Amazing Grace. I remember praying to God, and thanking Him that I was alive.?

When they returned to the camp, they were rushed into the surgical unit, but all the serious and critical injuries were rushed in first. Liberty said she walked in after everyone else.

They fixed both of her badly burned hands before she went back to her room. When she got there, she saw she had received packages from home that day.

“One was from my mom. She got me the most gorgeous rosary,? said Liberty. “That night, I just remember lying in bed, praying to let me forget about it. I tried to sleep that night, but obviously I couldn't sleep much. All I wanted was to just wake up in the morning and feel like it didn't just happen. The whole thing just kept playing in my mind.

The next morning, she remembers waking up and thanking God. But with the morning sun came a new pain. Her neck began to hurt, so she went back to the aid station.

The doctors told Liberty she had broken a cervical vertebrae in her neck and she was going to have to return to the United States.

She returned to Camp Lejeune shortly after the incident and has been on convalescent leave since July 3. Not long after she went on leave, she received her Purple Heart Medal.

“It was extremely hard to accept, knowing all the people that had died,? said Liberty. “It's nothing you can train or practice for, and you always receive it under the worst circumstances.?

Now, she wears a neck brace to assist in stabilizing the break and help with the pain. She is currently recuperating from first-, second- and third-degree burns on her hands and two black eyes in addition to her neck injury.

Liberty will undergo surgery in Florida next month, where they will put a metal plate between her C4 and C5 vertebraes in an attempt to stabilize the break.

In light of the life-altering events she's been through, she's still moving forward in her life. Liberty married on Sept. 19, after getting engaged right before she left for Iraq in February.

“It's been a rough engagement,? Liberty said, with a light, but respectful chuckle.

Liberty said, that even though it has been almost four months since the incident, she still has thoughts of that day.

“I wonder what would have happened if those guys wouldn't have pulled me away from the truck,? she added. “I imagine what would have happened if I had the strength to pull her away. I'm sure that will always stay with me. Honestly, my mind and my heart hurt way more than my body ever will.?

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