CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Bullets from insurgents' AK47 rifles tore into his legs, but Cpl. Jason S. Clairday wasn't about to be stopped.
Clairday, 21, had just leaped across a four-foot gap between rooftops three stories above the Fallujah street to reach a mortally wounded member of another platoon felled in an intense firefight that Dec. 12, 2004, morning. He reorganized first squad and pushed into the house again, throwing grenades and firing his rifle to lead his men against the insurgent fighters inside.
Enemy fire again struck him, and he was evacuated to a field surgical unit, where he died.
Through that battle, Marines say, Clairday never gave up. On Monday, the Marine Corps awarded the Navy Cross medal -- the second-highest for valor in combat -- to his widow during a Camp Pendleton ceremony as members of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, looked on.
During the ceremony, held on a parade deck next to 3/5's headquarters at Camp San Mateo, Col. Larry D. Nicholson told the story of Clairday's perseverance leading his men despite his wounds.
"He was asked to evacuate. He was told to evacuate. He was supposed to evacuate," said Nicholson, the 5th Marines regimental commander, his booming voice carrying across the vast parade deck. "He did not evacuate. What did he do? He went back and rallied his fire team. He rallied all the Marines that were on that rooftop and he said, we're going to go back in ... and that's exactly what they did."
Clairday, who hailed from Salem, Ark., was wounded again, mortally, but not before leading several Marines to kill three insurgents in the house. Honor, service and commitment "are more than just words," Nicholson said, noting they "are not old-fashioned concepts."
Fellow Marines with 3/5 recalled Clairday's motivation, aggressiveness and decisiveness.
Capt. Todd Moulder, who was Clairday's 2nd Platoon commander at the time, recalled his "loyalty to his brothers," as well as his "sometimes very colorful" cadences.
"The platoon would follow him anywhere," Moulder told the crowd.
"This was a tragic day for us all. Sarah, you lost a husband," he said, looking at Clairday's widow seated among other relatives and veterans. "Some lost a son. For us, we lost a brother. I will attest that without Jason's decisiveness leadership and extraordinary heroism, more husbands, sons and brothers would have been lost that 12th day of December."
Former Cpl. Travis Icard remembers his fire team leader's determination to push on that ill-fated day despite his wounds.
"His brave example saved lives and is the definition of courage," he said.
Icard credits Clairday's hard-work ethic and "tough-as-nails" example with inspiring him to be a better Marine. "I'd always hoped to be half the Marine he always was," he said.
Cpl. Richard Laster, then a young private first class new to the platoon, recalled Clairday's mentorship, selflessness and courage.
"I'd always see him pushing others, never letting them quit," Laster said.
His example "guided me to be a better Marine, a better man ... and to guide my Marines."
Several relatives and friends traveled to California for the morning ceremony. For Clairday's family, hearing his final actions brought tears of grief and joy at the recognition of a young man who had "a mischievous bent" but who they always knew was a good-hearted soul.
After the ceremony, his mother, Nancy McWilliams of Delta, Colo., said Clairday "wanted to do something ... wanted to make a difference."
McWilliams said she wasn't surprised at hearing how he had refused several times to be evacuated during the fighting. "That's not him," she said, trying to hold back tears.
Charles Hargett, a Marine veteran who fought in Vietnam, presented a plaque to Sarah Clairday from the Military Order of the Purple Heart's North San Diego chapter. Hargett, the chapter commander, looked across the parade deck, where 3/5's men waited for the ceremony to begin. "I was that age when I was in," he said.
Hargett, who was wounded three times during his 1967-68 tour in Vietnam, said he was amazed when he read the citation that accompanied Clairday's award.
"I think he's a helluva man to give his life for something like that," he said. "It's way beyond the call of duty."