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The Dead Hand Journal

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15

Given what we do here, you would think I'd be right on top of a story like this. Not so... the death of a classmate always takes my breath away, and all the words with it.

Doug's home now. His classmates and his Marines accompanied his remains every step of the way from Baghdad to Annapolis, and he will live on in every life he touched, in every warrior he inspired.

Doug was a real Marine, all the way. He lived like one, and he died like one. G-d bless you, shipmate.

From the Annapolis Capital:

Maj. Douglas A. Zembiec was a Marine's Marine.

Surrounded by tough guys, the 34-year-old from Winchester on the Severn stood out for his battlefield bravery. He charged the enemy as shrapnel pierced him and bullets whizzed by. Afterward, he'd make no apologies for defending his country.

"He was the consummate warrior, but he was not heartless," said former Marine Capt. Tom Ripley of Annapolis, who served with Maj. Zembiec for about a year.

A 1995 Naval Academy graduate, Maj. Zembiec died Thursday during combat operations in Iraq. He leaves behind a wife and a 1-year-old daughter.

"It's been a real loss for the family and a real loss for the Marine Corps," Capt. Ripley said.

Retired Marine Corps Col. John W. Ripley of Annapolis, who had known Maj. Zembiec for 13 years, called him "absolutely magnetic."

"He was a great inspiration, an absolute role model for every one of the Marines he served with," said Col. Ripley, the father of Capt. Ripley and a Vietnam War hero who blew up a strategic bridge in 1972.

"He would walk into a unit and literally stun every Marine. They would look at him and say, 'My goodness, we got this guy?'"

His former academy classmates remembers Maj. Zembiec as hero and a friend.

"From an individual perspective that is surely far from uniquely privileged among those of us who studied and served with Doug, it will eternally be among the richest things in life to continue to refer to him as a hero who, as the fate of such fortune would have it, was also the dearest friend," academy Class of 1995 President John Fleet said in a statement.

Maj. Zembiec also was featured in a 2004 article in Los Angeles Times Magazine.

The article followed then-Capt. Zembiec into combat against insurgents in Fallujah. One-third of his 150-man company became casualties. Maj. Zembiec was blunt when he talked about his job.

"From day one, I've told (my troops) that killing is not wrong if it's for a purpose, if it's to keep your nation free," he told the Times. "One of the most noble things you can do is kill the enemy."

Maj. Zembiec earned the Bronze Star with a V-device for Valor for his actions in Fallujah.

The Times reported he led his troops so close to insurgents, both sides hurled grenades at each other from 20 feet apart. He was wounded by shrapnel in a battle in which two of his Marines were killed and 18 wounded.

The major also served in Afghanistan and Kosovo in addition to working at the Pentagon.

Maj. Zembiec was born April 14, 1973 in Hawaii. His father was an FBI agent. He was an All-American wrestler at the academy, where the Times reported he became known for his determination in the wrestling ring and fondness for pranks.

Maj. Zembiec was about 6 feet 2 inches tall and almost perfectly built, Col. Ripley said.

"He was ... a physical masterpiece - honest to goodness this guy was Michelangelo's David," Col. Ripley said. "He was a perfectionist, and his real perfection lay in the endurance aspect of fitness, being able to just keep going, keep going."

Maj. Zembiec also had a "mischievous" sense of humor, Col. Ripley said.

There's a legendary story about his proposal to his wife, Pamela, at the academy. For some reason - sheer joy, perhaps? - after he popped the question, he threw her in the river.

"I'm not sure how that happened," Col. Ripley said with a laugh. "He threw her in and then he jumps in right behind her and he has the engagement ring in his pocket. And she got all worried: 'Where's the ring?'"

Maj. Zembiec told the Times he chose the Marines over the Navy because "I wanted to be a defender, defending my country." During his career, he commanded a rifle platoon, force reconnaissance platoon and a rifle company.

Besides the Bronze Star, Maj. Zembiec was awarded a Purple Heart, a Navy Commendation with Gold Star, a Navy Achievement medal and other honors.

Capt. Ripley said there's been an "outpouring" of sympathy from fellow Marines, including the assistant corps commandant, who called Mrs. Zembiec.

The honor guard at Maj. Zembiec's funeral will consist of the men he led, Capt. Ripley said.

"The men he cared for most are caring for him now."

"You can't get around the loss, the loss of a great man, and I have to say the loss of potential," Col. Ripley said. "This was a Marine that would have risen and been remembered forever. But he will be remembered forever."

The major is the second local serviceman to die in Iraq this year. Seven local servicemen died in Iraq or Afghanistan last year. Nearly 3,400 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq since 2003.

Maj. Zembiec is survived by his wife, his daughter, Fallyn Justice Zembiec, his parents, Don and Jo Ann of Albuquerque, N.M. and a brother, John Zembiec, also of Albuquerque.

Visiting hours are from 3 to 5 p.m and 7 to 9 p.m. tomorrow at John M. Taylor Funeral Home, 147 Duke of Gloucester St. in Annapolis.

The funeral is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Naval Academy chapel with burial in Arlington National Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that memorial contributions be sent to the Maj. Douglas A. Zembiec Scholarship, MC-LEF c/o William Venezia, MC-LEF Office, 10 Rockefeller Plaza, Suite 1007, New York, NY 10020.

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