ALBUQUERQUE, NM, USA U.S. Marines MAJ, CO A, HQ BN, MC REGIONAL SUPPORT ELEMENT WASHDC, ARLINGTON, VA BAGHDAD, IRAQ 05/11/2007
An Annapolis-area Marine known as the “Lion of Fallujah” was killed Friday in Iraq while commanding a raid on insurgent forces in Baghdad, military officials said Monday.
“He was the consummate warrior, but he was not heartless,” said former Marine Captain Tom Ripley of Annapolis, who served with Major Zembiec for about a year.
A 1995 Naval Academy graduate, Major 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,” Captain Ripley said.
Retired Marine Corps Colonel John W. Ripley of Annapolis, who had known Major 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 Colonel Ripley, the father of Captain Ripley and a Vietnam War hero who blew up a strategic bridge in 1972. His former academy classmates remember Major Zembiec as hero and a friend.
“From an individual perspective that is surely far from unique 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.
Major Zembiec also was featured in a 2004 article in Los Angeles Times Magazine. The article followed then-Captain Zembiec into combat against insurgents in Fallujah. One-third of his 150-man company became casualties.
Major 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.
Major 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.
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,” Colonel 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?'”
“You can’t get around the loss, the loss of a great man, and I have to say the loss of potential,” Colonel Ripley said. “This was a Marine that would have risen and might have been remembered forever. But he will be remembered forever now.”