A Statement of Valor

Times Staff Writer

Last spring Capt. John Maloney led his Marines on a mission of mercy through the dangerous streets of Ramadi, Iraq, to take medical supplies to a struggling hospital.

Maloney's Marines and a squad of Army soldiers guided a slow-moving convoy through streets infested with snipers and hidden bombs to deliver more than $500,000 worth of supplies -- bandages, bedsheets, heart monitors, antibiotics, incubators and more -- to the Ramadi Maternity and Children's Hospital.

Maloney told a military reporter that he hoped the heavily guarded mission would "show the Iraqi people that the Marines mean well." It was completed without trouble.

But just days later, Maloney, 36, and Lance Cpl. Erik Heldt, 26, were killed when their Humvee struck an improvised explosive device. Three other enlisted Marines were badly burned.

On Friday, in a ceremony at the sprawling Marine base here, Maloney's widow, Michelle, received the Bronze Star with V for Valor, awarded posthumously to her husband for his leadership during 109 days of combat against heavily armed insurgents.

Lt. Col. Eric Smith, the battalion commander, pinned the brightly colored medal on the couple's son, Nathaniel, 6, while their daughter, McKenna, 2, looked on.

"He's had a hard time understanding why all the other daddies came home and his didn't," said the boy's grandmother, Linda Keil of Simi Valley. "But he's proud of his daddy, and he knows he gave his life for something he believed in."

Maloney, of Chicopee, Mass., enlisted in the Marine Corps when he was 18 and served in the Persian Gulf War and Somalia. He attended the University of Colorado, became an officer and was commanding officer of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment, 1st Marine Division when he was killed.

When the bomb exploded that June morning, Maloney and Heldt became the 23rd and 24th members of the One-Five -- as it is known -- to die in Iraq.

Maloney and Heldt, originally from Hermann, Mo., were returning from a patrol when their convoy was attacked. Maloney ordered his Humvee, the lead vehicle, to take a blocking position to keep the insurgents from reaching the main part of the force.

By slowing the insurgents, Maloney allowed his Marines to position themselves for what turned out to be a two-hour firefight that routed the enemy.

"Because of what he did over there, I brought 150 Marines home," said Charlie Company 1st Sgt. Michael Brookman. "He'll be with me the rest of my life."

Three more One-Five Marines were killed before the battalion returned from its third tour in Iraq in October. Thirty-eight Marines in Charlie Company received Purple Hearts.

After the ceremony, held beneath tall shade trees with green hills in the background, Marines from Charlie Company offered their condolences to Michelle Maloney and other family members.

Maloney chose not to speak to reporters, but when her husband was buried at Arlington National Cemetery last year, she issued a statement about him:

"He was fun and silly and had such dreams for his children and our lives together. They were his life, and he will always be ours."

The Camp Pendleton ceremony was held in a memorial garden dedicated to Marines from the 5th Regiment who have died in combat.

Stone markers note the battles, including Belleau Wood in World War I; Guadalcanal in World War II; the Chosin Reservoir in Korea; Hue City in Vietnam; Kuwait; and now Iraq.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World