Most everyone enjoys taking the occasional vacation. It’s a time to get away from work and be with family or friends, or even by yourself. Being out of the office is something everyone can appreciate. But for some, the mindset of being ‘in the office’ stays with them wherever they go…
Luckily, most are able to put their jobs out of their mind while on vacation. But when you’re a U.S. Marine, it’s not a thing you can shut off. Thankfully, one Marine was in the right place at the right time…
Silver Screen Depictions
When you think of the United States Marine Corps, what comes to mind is usually some stalwart, highly trained young man, armed to the teeth, maybe breaching a door and clearing an entrenched position or some other bold and daring act. But the truth of the matter is most things Marines do aren’t nearly that dramatic.
For example, there are a number of Marines who, due to their function, will rarely if ever find themselves in the middle of a firefight. Many of them occupy support roles, doing the very important tasks that never seem to find their way onto TV and movie screens.
One such Marine was Cpl. Diego Marmalejo. He served as an air traffic controller at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) in Iwakuni, Japan. He had of course gone through extensive training and overcome significant challenges in order to become a Marine, even if his position wasn’t the most romanticized.
Seeing The World
Naturally, one of the perks of being in the service is the opportunity to go places and experience cultures that would otherwise be out of reach. Being stationed in Japan meant that the Far East was easy to get to so, when it was time to take some leave, Cpl. Marmalejo chose Bali as his destination.
Taking The Opportunity
If you wanted to go to Bali from the U.S., it would likely take you over twenty hours of flying to reach the tropical paradise. By contrast, a flight from Japan would take less than eight and would also avoid the heavy jet lag, considering it’s an almost entirely north-south flight path. It would probably the best chance of Cpl. Marmalejo’s life to go there.
Ten Great Days
“We spent ten days in Bali just hanging out there,” said Marmalejo, who traveled with some other Marines. “So, for the most part, we were just at the beach, hanging out and having a good time relaxing.” Coming up on the end of his stay, the trip had been delightfully uneventful.
But on the second to last night that Cpl. Marmalejo would be on the island, he was walking toward a beach close to his hostel when he heard a loud smash. A traffic accident had happened not far from where he was and almost immediately, his training and instincts kicked in.
“I ran to the accident, and I basically forgot about everybody else,” Marmalejo said. “I was just focused on the accident. You enter a state of panic, at least from what I remember.” As he got closer to the scene, he was able to see that there were two people, a man and a woman, in serious need of help.
“The female was screaming at the time,” he said, “ and she was bleeding from her leg. The male was unresponsive so on the surface it appeared that the female needed a lot more medical attention. That was my initial thought. I went to work on her at first.”
Stopping The Flow
The biggest priority was to stop the woman’s blood loss, so Cpl. Marmalejo needed something to tie off the wound. “I was asking [the people around] for a belt because that was the first thing that came to mind for a makeshift tourniquet,” he said.
Dressed For The Beach
“Nobody was wearing a belt because everyone was wearing board shorts so I used a shirt that I found on the street,” he said. “I basically ripped up the shirt and just like we learned in boot camp, I tied it two inches above the wound.”
When applying a tourniquet, Marines are taught to write the time it is put on the victim in order to let medics know how long it’s been on the person when they arrive. That’s because if tourniquets are left on for too long, they can cause more damage than they prevent. Without a writing implement, Cpl. Marmalejo improvised and wrote the message in blood from the wound.
After stopping the woman’s blood loss, Cpl. Marmalejo turned his attention to the man. He seemed to be fading in and out of consciousness, suggesting that he might have a head injury. “I just looked around for nearby things and found a mug that I put underneath his head,” he said. “That’s honestly the best thing I could do.”
Sticking With Them
The Marine then waited with the two victims until medical professionals arrived, then stayed with them at the hospital until 5 a.m. before returning to the hostel. Once there, he met back up with Sgt. Derrick Usry, another air traffic controller. The two had been separated the night before and Sgt. Usry had been concerned.
“When I first saw Marmalejo I was worried, seeing him walk into our room with blood on his shoes,” Usry said. “He explained what happened and he seemed fine. He was much less worried about his emotions and more about the people he helped save.”
After getting a few hours rest, the Cpl. went back to the hospital to make sure the man and woman were doing alright. Despite having to return to Japan, he kept in contact with their families and got updates on their recoveries until both the man and the woman were out of the hospital and back to their lives.
Proud of You
Naturally, Sgt. Usry was proud to work alongside a Marine who had demonstrated such heroism outside of the usual military situation. “Cpl. Marmalejo has outstanding character and is constantly looking out for others, even if it means putting aside his self-interests,” said Usry.
He wasn’t the only one who thought his friend’s actions were exemplary. Cpl. Diego Marmalejo’s superiors learned about what he’d done to help save the lives of the two crash victims and they wanted to reward him.
Medal of Achievement
U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jason Kaufmann, Cpl. Marmalejo’s commanding officer, presented him with a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal when he returned to the Marine Corps Air Station back in Iwakuni.
Cpl. Marmalejo’s quick thinking, unquestioning selflessness, and genuine and continuing concern over the fates of the people he helped serve as a reminder of what true heroism really is: setting aside concerns about yourself so that the greater good can be served.