The Marines from the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion had been warned about the great danger of their assignment in Iraq: to eliminate insurgent strongholds in the desert stretches of the Euphrates River Valley.
On the hot, dry early morning of Aug. 2, 2007, they saw why. While patrolling south of the town of Rawah, one platoon was ambushed by a suicide car bomb, machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades.
In the first burst, one Marine was killed and another critically wounded. But many of the Marines were not in good position to return fire. They needed reinforcements.
Lance Cpl. Moses Cardenas didn’t wait.
He dashed across 50 yards of open terrain to reach a downed colleague, Sgt. Randy Roedema. Five insurgents fired at him as he ran.
Wounded twice in the neck, Cardenas was knocked to the ground, but he refused to retreat. He reached Roedema, who was bleeding profusely, unable to move.
Cardenas dragged him an estimated 100 yards to safety, stopping several times to fire his machine gun at the hidden enemy while using his body to shield his colleague. Once in a safe location, he ignored his own wounds and gave first aid to Roedema.
“He was my sergeant; I had to do something,” Cardenas said.
For saving Roedema’s life at the risk of his own, Cardenas, 20, who grew up in Fullerton, was awarded the Silver Star in a short but emotional ceremony Friday at Camp Pendleton.
Tears filled his eyes at the memory of Lance Cpl. Christian Vasquez, 20, of Coalinga, who was killed in the attack.
“We train together, laugh together, live together. You get close to your Marines, like brothers, more than brothers,” said Cardenas. “When one dies, it hurts.”
Like most firefights, the incident was brief, only a few minutes. All the insurgents were killed. “We were all firing. I hope I got one or two,” Cardenas said.
At the end of the ceremony Roedema, 25, embraced Cardenas and thanked him once again. Four days after he was shot, Roedema’s wife, Sharla, gave birth to their first child, Juliannah.
“I would never have seen her except for Lance Cpl. Cardenas,” said Roedema. “We’ll be in contact the rest of our lives. I owe him my life.”
The unit, part of the 1st Marine Division, is set to return to Iraq in the fall. Roedema, of Denver, is leaving the Marine Corps, but Cardenas said he is looking forward to the deployment.
“I love this job,” he said.