'Lion of Fallujah' from Camp Pendleton reportedly died on CIA mission

At CIA headquarters, only an anonymous star for fallen Marine based out of Camp Pendleton

As the leader of a Camp Pendleton infantry company during the early fighting in Iraq, Douglas Zembiec earned a Bronze Star and the nickname "Lion of Fallujah."

Other battles and other bravery followed as Zembiec's legend grew.

But when he was killed in combat in Baghdad in 2007, details of his death were not made public.

The Washington Post, in a story published Wednesday, explains why: The 34-year-old Zembiec -- an Annapolis graduate, a star wrestler, the most determined of warriors -- was on loan from the Marine Corps to the Central Intelligence Agency at the time he was killed.

Zembiec, a major, was assigned to a CIA group whose mission was to kill or capture "high-value" insurgents, the Post reported.

In the foyer of CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., there is a memorial to the 111 CIA officers who have fallen in the line of duty. Some are named, some not, all are noted by stars.

"For 2007, there is a single, anonymous star," the Post reported. It is for Zembiec.

There was a private ceremony at CIA headquarters for Zembiec's family members after he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, the Post reported. But, in keeping with agency rules, it will neither confirm nor deny that Zembiec was with the CIA when he was killed.

Through the years, the secrecy has rankled Zembiec's widow, Pam, who has written a book about her husband, "Selfless Beyond Service: A Story about the Husband, Son and Father Behind the Lion of Fallujah."

Of late, Pam Zembiec told the Post she has come to terms with the lack of public acknowledgement.

"Doug chose this path," she said. "He died doing what he loved, and he made a difference. And that's what matters."

Follow Tony Perry on Twitter: @LATsandiego

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