Archive for Thursday, July 31, 2003

Soldiers honored at Fort Riley for military service in Iraq

July 31, 2003

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— Cpl. John Ator II was driving a Bradley fighting vehicle through Iraq in April when two rocket-propelled grenades struck in rapid succession. All nine people inside were injured.

Ator was among eight soldiers who received the Purple Heart, awarded to those wounded in action, during a ceremony Tuesday on the Cavalry Parade Field at Fort Riley. Five of those soldiers were in the Bradley Ator was driving. The others wounded in the fight involving the Bradley already had received their Purple Hearts.

During the ceremony, the Bronze Star with "V" for valor device was awarded to 12 soldiers. Besides the Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts, the soldiers attending the ceremony were authorized to wear the Combat Infantryman's Badge and all medics to wear the Combat Medic's Badge.

Those receiving the awards were among 600 soldiers who returned July 19 to Fort Riley.

After the decoration ceremony, Ator, 20, of Collinsville, Okla., said he felt "very honored" to get the award but "kind of sad for the people who can't be here today."

During the attack, Ator suffered second- and third-degree burns on his hands, face and back of his neck and a whiplash injury to his neck because of the grenades' concussion. One grenade hit the Bradley just above the driver's hatch and the other struck between the turret and the hole.

Ator ran to the back of the Bradley, opened the door and helped six injured soldiers get out.

First Lt. Stephen Thorpe credited Ator with "saving all the guys in back." Thorpe, 27, of Waterloo, Iowa, was the commander of the platoon of four Bradleys and 40 men who were helping clear the city of Karbala to open supply lines to Baghdad. The April 5 attack left Thorpe with 10 to 15 pieces of shrapnel in his legs.

Ator is to receive the Bronze Star with "V" device for his actions at Karbala; Thorpe has been recommended to receive the Silver Star.

The medals were presented in Tuesday's ceremony by Brig. Gen. Dennis Hardy, commander of the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized). He asked for a moment of silence for three members of the task force killed in Iraq -- Sgt. Jacob Lee Butler, 24, of Wellsville; Spc. Larry Kenyatta Brown, 22, of Jackson, Miss.; and 1st Lt. Jonathan Rozier of Katy, Texas.

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