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Aired November 11, 2006 - 14:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. Here's what's making news right now.
President Bush honored U.S. troops during Veterans Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. The president placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown. In addition to talking about veterans of past wars, Mr. Bush also praised military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan right now.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They confront grave danger to defend the safety of the American people. They brought down tyrants. They've liberated two nations. They've helped bring freedom to more than 50 million people. Through their sacrifice, they're making this nation safer and more secure and they are earning the proud title of veteran.


WHITFIELD: Veterans Day observances are also taking place today in military bases around the country. One such ceremony at Fort Benning, in Georgia. The base serves as the flagship for the U.S. Army's infantry. Fort Benning boasts that it has one foot in current operations, including the war on terror, and one foot in designing the future of U.S. forces.

One of the largest Veterans Day events is New York's annual parade. Thousands marched up Fifth Avenue and through the streets of Midtown Manhattan. Observances around the city got underway yesterday. One gathering honored the youngest American serviceman to die in the Vietnam War. He was just 15 years old, who lied about his age in order to join the U.S. Marine Corps.

Our next news update is at 3:00 p.m. Eastern. Now time for CNN's Lou Dobbs, saluting America's "HEROES."

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our special Veterans Day tribute to our men and women in uniform serving this nation around the world. Tonight we honor all our men and women in uniform and the millions of veterans who've served this nation in all branches of our armed services.

And we'll also be examining the incredible advances in medical care that enable so many of our wounded heroes to survive their battlefield wounds and return home to their families. All of that and a great deal more, straight ahead here tonight. ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, "Heroes," a tribute to our troops.

Here now, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody. On this Veterans Day weekend, tens of thousands of our troops are deployed overseas battling a dangerous enemy. Nearly 150,000 of our troops are now in Iraq. They're fighting a war that's already lasted longer than World War II. About 20,000 of our troops are in Afghanistan, fighting radical Islamist terrorists and insurgents trying to overthrow the Afghan government.

Like millions of Americans throughout our history, today's troops put their lives on the line each and every day to serve this nation. We salute them all, our veteran, our heroes. We begin tonight with a report on the many soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who serve this nation overseas.

Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon now has a report on how many of troops are deployed overseas and where they're serving -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, you know after the Cold War the U.S. military reduced its size from 1.6 million to about 1.4 million active duty troops in the U.S. military. If you add the Guard and Reserve it comes out well over two million troops, and the U.S. needs those Guard and Reserve forces to maintain the current levels in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 150,000 troops, roughly, serving in Iraq now supplemented by those Guard and Reserve, in fact, the actual impact of these numbers including the 20,000 serving in Afghanistan is much greater than that, because for every troop that's there, there have to -- has to be somebody on the way to replace them and some that have just come back, and you can see the impact of these deployments around the world even 60 years after World War II, the United States still has some 65,000 troops in Germany, some 35,000 troops in Japan.

Fifty years after the Korean War, still about 30,000 troops there. That's down, because of current, recent reductions in the U.S. force there, but as the U.S. military has been downsized over the last decade, one thing is for certain, Lou, the missions that they've asked to be -- to perform have been upsized. Lou?

DOBBS: Jamie, thank you very much. Our Jamie McIntyre from the Pentagon.

More than 2,800 of our troops have been killed in the Iraq war since it began, 21,572 of our troops wounded. Of those, 9,820 seriously wounded. Those wounded troops are receiving the best medical care possible now from the combat medics in the battlefield to the physicians and nurses at medical centers all around the United States. Never before have our troops' chances of survival from their combat wounds been higher.

Bill Tucker reports. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch your step.

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Battlefield injuries are tended to with unprecedented speed. The wounded moved quickly out of theater and in to field hospitals like this one in Bali. From there, they are handed over to the care of air rescue teams.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When they get hurt and they need to get treatment, they need to go home, they need somebody to come and get them, and we're proud, our teams are proud to go and get them.

TUCKER: Team, it's a word you hear a lot of.

CAPT. SEAN FOSTER, 101ST AIRBORNE DIV.: Teamwork between all these -- not just the Air Force and the Army but the Navy, the Marines. Everybody works together.

TUCKER: Together they've cut the average time it takes to get a wounded soldier back home to less than a week. During Vietnam it took 48 days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's an incredible team. Some great Americans doing great things. It's all about saving American lives.

LT. COLONEL RUSSELL PINARD, U.S. AIR FORCE: We have a 96 percent survival rate. If you get to our theater hospital alive, you have a 96 percent chance of making it.

TUCKER: All of the injured are brought back here to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

LT. COLONEL CATHY MARTIN, LANDSTUHL INTENSIVE CARE UNIT: We average about 120 to 150 patients per month through this unit. The main types of patients that we've been taking care of for the last three years are the IED blast injured patients as well as RPGs and the secondary diagnosis that we take care of are cardiac diagnoses.

TUCKER: It can be grim business and it's tended to with grace.

DIDI PRICE, CIVILIAN REGISTERED NURSE: I love my work. I wouldn't change it.

TUCKER (on camera): Why?

PRICE: I love taking care of the soldiers. I feel, you know -- I feel safe for what they're doing for me, and I give them 150 percent every day.

LT. COL. GINA DORLAC, CRITICAL CARE AIRTRANSPORT TEAMS: What I didn't know, because you can't know until you come here, is what it feels like to work in Landstuhl. What it feels likes to -- for that brief period of time, to hold someone else's son or daughter, figuratively, and sometimes literally in your arms, and ease their pain, and help them hopefully get better faster.

It's huge. And when you feel like you've done it well and you've made a difference and you call somebody's mom on the phone and you can let her know, this is what's going on with John and there's nothing as rewarding as that.

TUCKER (on camera): Landstuhl not the end. It's only part of the way home.

MAJOR KENDRA WHYTT, LANDSTUHL MEDICAL CENTER: It's a trip, that's the best way -- it's a trip. The trip starts in Afghanistan, Iraq. We're just a layover. You know we're just a three-day layover for some patients. And then they catch the next plane out three days later, and they're going to the next layover.


TUCKER: From Landstuhl, our more seriously wounded warriors are flown to one of three primary care centers here in the states, Lou -- Bethesda, Walter Reed and Brooke Army Medical Center.

DOBBS: Great. Thank you very much. Bill Tucker. We'll be taking a look at those facilities one of them -- of the many around the world and in this country providing the very best in care to our wounded warriors.

Joining me now, two of this country's most distinguished former generals, General David Grange, he served in the infantry, airborne anti-terrorist units in the U.S. Army all over the world, a Vietnam veteran. General Bernard Trainor serving with the Marine Corps for nearly 40 years, serving in both Korea and Vietnam. General Trainor is also the co-author of "Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq".

First of all, Generals, I'd just like to say thank you for being here and happy Veterans Day. Are we doing enough in your opinion, General Trainor, to care for our troops? Is this country doing enough for our wounded warriors, for our men and women in the field?

LT. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR, U.S. MARINE CORPS (RET.): Lou, I think the treatment that they're getting in this war probably exceeds almost on a quantum level from previous wars. First of all, there are more survivors.

Admittedly, some of those that do survive in previous wars would have been killed and they're terribly maimed today, but the treatment that they're getting, the whole system is set up to take care of these people and not only their physical requirements, but also their psychological problems and get them back out in the streets as productive citizens. I think it's a fabulous program that they have in all of the services today.

DOBBS: Well, both of you have led men in battle, and I want to turn to you, General Grange and just ask you, when we watch the tremendous sense of duty on the part of our -- our men and women in uniform, whether it's in Iraq, whether it is in Afghanistan, what motivates a young man or woman to join the military? What motivates them in fulfilling their duty?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, quite often, Lou, someone goes in to the military because of a relative or a friend, or something that's just in their life one day motivates them to want to serve, to serve their country, to serve their fellow citizen. And what happens is once you get into the Army, the Marine Corps, any of the services a brotherhood truly is established where you start caring more for others and quite often yourself.

It's more of a we than a me. And it's very powerful. And when you're in a combat situation, that's more of an extreme case of this brotherhood, and it's ever-lasting.

DOBBS: General Trainor, compare, if you will, if you can, today's military to yesterday's military. How do our men and women stack up against those who served 30, 40 years ago?

TRAINOR: Well, Lou, you know, I enlisted in the Marines right at the end of World War II as a skinny 17-year-old that wanted to get in there, wanted to get in the war. I was sorry that it ended before I got my licks in and I joined the Marines, they were the toughest. And I thought that would also give me a leg up on the ladies. So...


TRAINOR: ... it was a pretty exciting thing for me. That was my motivation. But at the time it was a military of all discipline and obedience and no thinking. Here's what you got do, go do it and you better do it right. Today, I think the quality of the troopers, first of all, both physically and mentally are probably far superior than it was when I went in at the end of the war. And, also, they're thinking people.

They talk today rightfully so about the strategic corporal, the guy that is in the field that makes decisions that are going to have a tremendous impact, possibly even in international affairs. We didn't have any of that in the old days. The old days it was you do something and you never took any initiative. Today, it's all initiative.

DOBBS: You concur, General Grange?

GRANGE: Oh, absolutely. I think it is a better trained and a more well-rounded military that has from tactical to strategic level in the individuals. One thing, though, that has not changed, and that's courage, that's heroism, that's this bravery that you see in Vietnam, no different there than in Iraq or Afghanistan. That has not changed in the American G.I.

DOBBS: And our veterans, gentlemen, are we doing enough? Whether it be veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan or Vietnam, or Korea, are we doing enough for those veterans in this country -- General Trainor first.

TRAINOR: Well, yes, I think we are, Lou. There are all sorts of programs set up as we know for those who have been wounded and maimed. But for the other veterans that are lucky enough to get out unscathed, there's still all sorts of opportunities, and I think you know, they're not -- a veteran is -- he's proud of what he's done.

He's not looking for special treatment or adoration, but he does want recognition of what he has done and a lot bit of a tip of the hat and programs such as you're conducting right now that called our attention to the sacrifices that these kids have made. I think that's worthwhile, and certainly I think the benefits that have been bestowed on them by the Congress certainly are in keeping with the sacrifices that they've made.

DOBBS: General Grange?

GRANGE: Well I think because there's over 25 million veterans alive in the United States today, it's a tall order to take care of those veterans, and I do believe that the veterans affairs is under funded. I think it's a wonderful program, but it's a tall order, and every time you bring someone in to the military for, let's say, a three-year hitch what is not talked about, and I don't think planned out very well by administration or Congress, that's the, what's over the second and third hill, once someone does get out of the military and then has these benefits that they expect.

Those things are a challenge. They're very expectative and expensive. And so what you get is what you pay for, and if you're going to send people around the world to do these many things, which we do very well, you got to pay for it and take care of them later.

DOBBS: Well General Grange, General Trainor, as you put it, General Trainor, we want to be certain you know we're tipping our hat to you and extending our thanks to both of you and to all who are serving this nation and have served it in uniform on this Veterans Day weekend -- thank you, gentlemen.

Still ahead, the battle for Ramadi, one Marine battalion's fight against insurgents and terrorists in one of Iraq's most dangerous cities, and the remarkable story of the highest ranking minority female in the history of West Point and we'll introduce you to the incredible men and women who work tirelessly to care for our wounded warriors. Stay with us.


DOBBS: Some of the fiercest fighting in Iraq has been in al- Anbar Province west of Baghdad. Tonight we join up with a battalion of Marines that fought nonstop for seven months against insurgents and terrorists in Ramadi, the capital of al-Anbar Province. Michael Ware, our lead correspondent in Iraq and Ramadi with the story of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those people over here will die for each other, so pretty much it happens over here.

(SOUNDS) MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): And happen it did.


WARE: This is Ramadi, the worst of the Iraq frontline.


WARE: This day in May, Marines closing around a fallen comrade, shielding him from fire. It begins as a patrol. Two teams watching al Qaeda-held streets, an insurgent sniper hunting one of them.


WARE: Until they all push 150 meters home, the U.S. Marine outpost and they're hit, caught in a killing zone, fire from two directions. Somehow only Lance Corporal Phillip Tussey (ph) was hit.

LANCE CPL. BEAMER DIAZ, U.S. MARINE CORPS: It gets pretty crazy. So -- a lot of times you are just sitting around nothing's going on. All of a sudden two seconds later, you're in a big firefight, just fighting, trying to stay alive.


WARE: This was the 3rd Battalion 8th Marine Regiment's wall, 600-plus men ordered to go head-to-head with al Qaeda's suicide jihadists in downtown Ramadi.


WARE: In a battle their general admits he does not have enough troops to win into what their commanders call a meat grinder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Definitely that -- I lost one good friend, and -- but I've talked to his wife, I've talked to his family and they're all coping well, so I know I can cope well. If they can, I can, so...


WARE: These Marines fought day in, day out...


WARE: Repelling al Qaeda assaults from their outpost...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Part of me that says it will. A bigger part of me says I cannot be fine. I got a lot support back home. People have told me we expect you to be different, things like that, but I think I'll be fine. I think a lot these guys will be fine. It's just -- a lot of people think it will change you here.


WARE: Luring out al Qaeda loading a detainee in to vehicles...


WARE: ... a few blocks down, an ambush in another street.


WARE: The fight leads to a rooftop. In seven months, this battalion suffered 17 killed in action, more than many brigades of 5,000 in Iraq lose in a year. Their presence made a dent in al Qaeda but listening to them, you hear in their own words how the price for this war is being paid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You get nervous when you come over, but once you're here, you're nervous, aren't you? Of course you're nervous. You're come into a combat zone.

WARE: Michael Ware, CNN, Ramadi.


DOBBS: The 3rd Battalion 8th Marines has now completed its tour in Iraq. Like Marines all over the world, the battalion is celebrating the Marine Corps' 231st birthday this weekend. The continental Congress raised the first and second battalions of the American Marines on November 10, 1775. The traditions that began then continue today in the Marine Corps of the 21st Century -- happy birthday, Marines.

Coming up next here, she was West Point's first minority woman graduate, a dedicated and heroic officer, she paid the ultimate price. We'll have the story of Lieutenant Emily Perez. And we'll be going to a military rehabilitation complex in Texas, the world's finest. They're making amazing strides in healing our servicemen and women wounded on the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan. Stay with us.


DOBBS: Second Lieutenant Emily Perez was the highest-ranking minority female in the history of West Point. On September 12 as Lieutenant Perez was leading her troops she was killed by a roadside bomb. Barbara Starr has her story.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What her family remembers most about Second Lieutenant Emily Perez is her smile. Her parents now mourn the little girl who became for a short while a young commander leading troops in Iraq.

VICKI PEREZ, MOTHER OF SOLDIER KILLED IN IRAQ: When she was a little girl she wanted to be a nun and I told her Emily, we're Baptists, you can't be a nun.

STARR: Last month 23-year-old Emily became the first West Point female graduate to die in Iraq when her convoy was hit by a roadside bomb. She was bringing medical supplies to field units. Emily entered West Point shortly before the 9/11 attacks, quickly rising to a leadership role inside the competitive Cadet Corps. She never planned to go to West Point, but after visiting during high school, her parents say she was hooked.

V. PEREZ: When people would say, well, what's your second choice, she would say I'm going to West Point. V. PEREZ: And I would say well Emily, you know, no, mom, I'm going -- and she didn't apply to any other college.

STARR: After Emily went to Iraq, her mother never stopped worrying.

V. PEREZ: I would wake up in the middle of the night, send e- mails to her when I heard the news, and she would -- one morning as a matter of fact, I sent one, answer me ASAP and about two hours later the phone rang. Ma, you need to quit looking at the news.

STARR: The young soldier who ran track and started an AIDS ministry at her Baptist church became one of more than 50 military women who have died in Iraq. Technically, the U.S. still does not allow women to serve in frontline combat positions. Her father Daniel, a former soldier himself, has no doubt his daughter was on the frontline.

DANIEL PEREZ, FATHER OF SOLDIER KILLED IN IRAQ: Emily was one, she always led from the front and her thing was, I'm going to be in the lead vehicle, because these are my soldiers, and I have to bring them back home safe.


STARR: Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


DOBBS: There are some 350,000 women serving in our armed forces all around the world. About 27,000 women are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And while regulations prevent women from being deployed on the frontlines, the fact is, of course, that all of Iraq and Afghanistan are on the frontlines.

Coming up next, we'll visit a state-of-the-art medical rehabilitation facility at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. The doctors, the staff there give our wounded warriors the best of care and hope. Two Navy SEALs far from the sea and the mountains of Afghanistan on a critical mission. They gave their lives to save their comrade. We'll have the story of heroes Danny Dietz and Matthew Axelson next here.


ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, "Heroes", a tribute to our troops.

Here again, Lou Dobbs. DOBBS: As we recognize and express our gratitude to all our military men and women this Veterans Day weekend, we're going to take to you a very special place, a special rehabilitation complex in Texas. Brooke Army Medical Center, the Fisher House, the Plan Center for the Intrepid all helping to heal our wounded warriors back from the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan.


DOBBS (voice-over): The Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston. It's an impressive state-of-the-art medical center that provides services to our wounded men and women in uniform.

But as impressive as this structure looks on the outside, it's on the inside of this building, the men and women who work here, to rehabilitate our soldier, marines and sailors, and the unbelievable resolve of these young men and women that we found truly remarkable.

STAFF SGT. BRAD ALEXANDER, U.S. ARMY: I can't believe the amount of care that this place offers and the kindness. That's probably been the biggest thing. A lot of good listeners here.

DOBBS (on camera): How about your buddies?

STAFF SGT. BLAINE SCOTT, U.S. MARINE CORPS: I lost three marines in it, and three of us lived.

LT. JAMES BARCLAY, U.S. ARMY: It hurts. That's the good part.

DOBBS: You've been here since when?

J. BARCLAY: Since August 24th. I was in an IED explosion in Afghanistan on the 19th. Just my driver and myself are the ones who made it. Three others died in the vehicle, so a pretty bad explosion. We're pretty lucky. I got all my digits, and all my arms and legs, and my face, and I'm pretty lucky. Yes.

DOBBS (voice-over): His mother credits the professionals who come to work here every day -- their commitments, their positive attitudes, they're caring.

DEBBIE BARCLAY, MOTHER OF LT. BARCLAY: These professional, they've got to come in laughing here, you know, being positive, because if they're down, then these guys are going to go down.

DOBBS: We met Marine Corps Lance Corporate Aaron Mankin and quickly learned the importance of the support these warriors provide to one another.

LANCE CPL. AARON MANKIN, U.S. MARINE CORPS: Community and caring, support, you know, structures that they have in place, from the commander or general on down to the sergeants here that pull our fingers and make it happen.

DOBBS (on camera): How long do you figure you'll be here? MANKIN: You know, I've got at least another year. I have some surgeries planned to fix the beautiful part, you know, getting back to good looking, and so -- surgeries on the vocal cords.

DOBBS: Right, I hear you're a little raspy. You got burned in the...

MANKIN: First thing you do when you see fire in your face is -- that's what I did. So I got a mouthful. A lot stronger than when I started.

DOBBS: Is there any way to tell folks how tough it is?

MANKIN: How tough it is? It's unimaginable. Unless you've experienced -- it's something you can't -- it's hard to relate. It's hard to understand. I mean, I can sit here and throw all of the pretty words at you that I can define, but you're not going to grasp it all.

But coming here and seeing these faces and hearing the voices and hearing the stories helps. It helps. But as far as the burden and the pain and the struggle, that's something that only we know and we can share.

DOBBS (voice-over): Lance Corporal Mankin and his wife are expecting their first baby in January. They'll deliver that baby and spend their first year as a family of three near Brooke Army Medical Center so Mankin can continue his treatment.

While these wounded warriors are recuperating, many of their families stay at the adjacent Fisher House. For 15 years, Fisher Houses have served as a home away from home for the families of these wounded warriors. More than 3,000 American families have stayed at the 35 houses on military bases and Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers all around the country.

Also at Fort Sam Houston, construction of the Center for the Intrepid.

COL. JOHN SHERO, DEPUTY CMDR. FOR ADMIN.: There are none of these in the United States right now. This will be the very first one. So the technology embedded here will serve as both a research and development tool for the whole United States as well as the ability to give state-of-the-art care in the world for our wounded warriors.

DOBBS: The $45 million facility is expected to open at the end of January as the largest and best-equipped rehabilitation center in America. The Center for the Intrepid will specialize in services for patients with limb loss. The facility will include a pool, indoor running track, a two-story climbing wall and a state-of-the-art virtual reality rehabilitation environment to help amputees recover.


DOBBS: A remarkable group of men and women caring for our wounded warriors. If you'd like to donate to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund or the Fisher House, please logon to on And we'll have that up on our Web site at

Also, CNN's Warrior One Hummer vehicle -- there it is -- it was used by our correspondents in Iraq. It's being auctioned off to benefit the Fisher House program. Warrior One, as it's been dubbed, has been customized by The Learning Channel's "Overhaulin'."

The Barrett-Jackson Auction Company, we are pleased to tell you, will be auctioning off Warrior One, of course, to the highest bidder. That will take place on January 20th of next year, and it couldn't be for a better cause. All of the information on our Web site,

Joining me now, a man you saw in that report on Brook Medical Service Center. He is Colonel John Shero, deputy commander of administration at the Brooke Army Medical Center.

Colonel, it is great to have you here.

SHERO: Thank you, sir.

DOBBS: And what would you say is the single most important thing that our audience should know about your facility, the young men and women you're serving, and the wonderful staff at Brooke Army Medical Center?

SHERO: Sir, I would just tell you that we are all enormously proud to serve those wounded warriors and feel a very special commitment to what we do for them. Their sacrifices make it all worth coming to work and doing the hardest job I've had in 25 years in the military, and it's an incredible group of young men and women to work with.

DOBBS: It's inspirational. Give us -- Lance Corporal Mankin, he gave us a sense of the impossibility to even understand the pain. And as I was there with you watching one young man moving one finger, what it was taking for him to do that, trying to carry out his therapy, I mean, the people working, the therapists, the nurses, the doctors, all of the support staff, so focused -- tell us about the kind of people it takes to do that?.

SHERO: They're the most dedicated, hard-working, professional group of individuals that I've ever seen. They are amazing, and there's a boundless wealth of commitment on their part to doing everything that they can to care for those young wounded warriors and to return them to as good as they possibly can be, and they just don't quit.

They will not quit and they won't let the young soldiers, the young Marines quit on themselves either. So they're tremendously motivational, but I think that also comes back from those wounded warriors. Those kids motivate us.

DOBBS: Absolutely. And talking with a number of those young folks having to go through all of the pain, all of that work, all that they've already been through in combat, life after Brooke Army Medical Center, what is that like? What can the rest of us do?

SHERO: I would tell you that these folks are going on with their lives, absolutely in every way you can imagine. You saw Lance Corporal Mankin, and he was married after his injury. We've had tons of other folks that also had a significant other and then were married after they were wounded, so that had no impact on them at all.

The rest of the story is, many of them are opting to stay in the military and we have a number of folks that with a single amputation and even a few with double amputations, that are staying in the military and continuing to serve.

Now, if they elect to leave the military, there's a tremendous amount of things that are being done on the part of the Army, the Marine Corps, the Navy to assist them in making that transition.

DOBBS: Colonel, we appreciate you being here. John Shero, doing a great job for the country and for those young men. We thank you.

SHERO: Thank you, sir.

DOBBS: Just ahead here, he put his life on the line in a showdown with insurgents in Iraq. We'll have the inspiring story of Marine Captain Christopher Bronzi.

And they earned the Navy Cross for bravery and their service with distinction. The story of two Navy SEALs, next. Stay with us.


DOBBS: Our next hero was awarded one of this country's highest awards for combat heroism. Marine Captain Christopher Bronzi's courage and bravery in battle with insurgents in Iraq earned him the Silver Star. Peter Viles has his story.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, save your ammo until you've got a target.

PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): April 6, 2004, the Marines of Golf Company were badly outnumbered. Part of the 2nd Battalion 4th Marines, they had been sent to Ramadi to put down the rising insurgency.

Captain Christopher Bronzi was the Golf Company commander, confident his young Marines were equal to the task but concerned about mounting casualties.

CAPT. CHRISTOPHER BRONZI, U.S. MARINE CORPS: I was just trying to keep them focused on the fight at hand, because every individual Marine, their combat power meant something.

VILES: As Bronzi led his men into the city, they were surrounded, outnumbered, at risk of being pinned down by small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The fire fight would last for two days.

BRONZI: I ultimately wound up echeloning my entire company into the fight. And because the fight grew, you know, the numbers vary. I know the amount of enemy that we confirmed that we killed was well over 300.

VILES: In the middle of the shooting, Bronzi boldly put himself in the line of fire, leading a group of Marines into an exposed street to recover the body of a fallen comrade.

BRONZI: I was very proud of my Marines, especially with the intensity of the combat, how they performed. The entire company was in the fight on the first day. That night, they cleaned up their weapons, they restocked their ammo, and they went right back outside the gate the next day for virtually the same scenario.

VILES: Bronzi credits his men, but the secretary of the Navy has now credited Bronzi for his leadership of those men. His citation describes "zealous initiative, courageous actions, and exceptional dedication to duty."

BRONZI: That was the most professionally rewarding experience of my life, because I feel like I saw the Marine Corps in its finest hour, at least my little piece of the Marine Corps.

VILES: Peter Viles for CNN, reporting.


DOBBS: Now the story of two Navy SEALs who fought to the death against radical Islamist terrorists in Afghanistan to save one of their own. Lisa Sylvester has the story of Petty Officer Matthew Axelson and Petty Officer Danny Dietz.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My trident is a symbol of honor and heritage, bestowed upon me by the heroes who have gone before.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sonar technician second class Matthew Axelson and gunners mate second class Danny Dietz were part of the elite Navy Seals team. Their widows accepted the Navy Cross on their behalf.

DONALD WINTER, U.S. NAVY SECRETARY: Petty Officer Matthew Axelson, Petty Officer Danny Dietz, a grateful nation salutes you. Heroes in life, and reminders in death of the price of freedom.

SYLVESTER: June, 2005, Axelson and Dietz were part of a team of four Seals on a reconnaissance mission in the mountains of Afghanistan, tracking a key Taliban leader. A fierce gun battle broke out. Outnumbered five to one, they radioed for help, but the Chinook helicopter that carried reinforcements was shot down by a rocket- propelled grenade, killing 16 more U.S. troops. Wounded, Axelson and Dietz fought on, allowing a third member of their team to escape, giving their life to another.

Both men were remembered for the imprint they left on their families and fellow Navy Seals, whose names and ranks we withheld for reasons of national security.

FRIEND OF MATT AXELSON, U.S. NAVY: I asked him one night why after graduating college and all of the endless possibilities he had, why he decided to join the Seal teams. And he replied that he just thought he had more to offer at that point in his life, and what better way to do it than to serve his country.

SYLVESTER: Role models on and off the battlefield, both were young husbands. Dietz, 25; Axelson, 29. Extremely accomplished men, who walked through life humbly.

MARIA "PATSY" DIETZ, WIFE OF DANNY DIETZ: I think he would just want to be remembered by who he was, you know, a person who was equal to everybody, a person who loved life, a person who had a passion for his job.

FRIEND OF DANNY DIETZ, U.S. NAVY: I don't think heroes are people who have supernatural strength and abilities. Heroes are normal people who make extraordinary decisions every day of their lives.


SYLVESTER: Only one Navy SEAL made it out of that battle alive. He, too, received a Navy Cross. His name has been withheld for security reasons -- Lou.

DOBBS: Lisa, thank you. As General David Grange said earlier in this broadcast, one thing that has not changed over the years is the amount of courage displayed by our young American soldiers and sailors and Marines and airmen.

Lisa, thank you very much.

Still ahead, two Air Force helicopter pilots put their lives on the line to rescue survivors of a desert crash. We'll have the inspiring story of Captains Brian Creel and Robert Wrinkle. Stay with us.


DOBBS: The Clarence Mackay Aviation Trophy is one of the most prestigious awards in the U.S. Air Force. The trophy is presented to the crew of the most meritorious flight of the year, and last year it was awarded to the captains and crew of a daring rescue in Afghanistan. Casey Wian has their story.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Air Force captains Bryan Creel and Robert Wrinkle have trained for years for this. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today we have the heroes from the two HH60 crews being awarded the prestigious Mackay trophy for the most meritorious flight of the year. A flight that occurred April 16th, 2004.

WIAN: As combat search and rescue pilots, it was the rescue of a lifetime. A Chinook helicopter crashed in a sandstorm, five soldiers on board. Creel and Wrinkle were tapped to lead a mission to rescue or recover.

CAPT. BRYAN CREEL, U.S. AIR FORCE: It was tense. Previous experience with some sandstorms in Afghanistan was not good. So had some hesitation there.

WIAN: Each flew a Pave Hawk Helicopter with a team of rescuers on board. They navigated through hostile territory, found the crash site and spotted survivors.

CAPT. ROBERT WRINKLE, U.S. AIR FORCE: They were all huddled together. They were waiting on us. They had their radio out trying to communicate with us, unfortunately it wasn't working.

We couldn't get communications with them until we actually landed. The wreckage was only 500 meters away. So that is about five football fields away. We couldn't see it because the visibility was so bad.

WIAN: Flying under the vicious sandstorm with no visibility, Creel and Wrinkle made two harrowing approaches, knowing they, too, could crash at any time.

CREEL: I was using an infrared light to shine out in front to where we could actually see where we were going. As soon as I got down, I centered all the controls, and I looked up to about where we're standing right here, and there were the survivors no more than about 25 yards away.

WIAN: Wrinkle landed safely as well. The survivors luckily weren't injured and were quickly picked up. But back in the air they came under attack.

WRINKLE: As I'm descending down and turning behind that tree line, P.J. on the right side, Matt Leigh, he sees what we believe to be an RPG go out the right-hand side. It was on a straight trajectory missing the aircraft. In that turn and almost immediately Sergeant Silver (ph), out my gunners window, he sees two corkscrews come up from that town behind him and come toward the aircraft.

Those having missed, we turned to the north to try to get some separation. Now everybody is up in the cabin looking outside to our rear to see if they can see anything coming. Sergeant Silver is now leaning out this window to look to the rear. And they identify two more corkscrews coming up out of that town.

WIAN: They fired 50 caliber weapons at the enemy on the ground. The missiles missed, and they finally made it to safety. CREEL: I have flown in desert storm, flown in Afghanistan, flown in Iraq a couple times as far as deployments. And this one definitely was the top one, I would say if you want to call it that just based on the environmental factors that we had and the challenges and also the enemy was out there in force trying to bring us down.

WIAN: As Mackay trophy winners, Creel, Wrinkle and their teams join the likes of Chuck Yeager and James Doolittle in aviation lore.

Casey Wian, CNN, reporting.


DOBBS: Still ahead, the remarkable story of a Navy corpsman who fought his way back from devastating injuries and prevailed. His story is next. Stay with us.


DOBBS: And now the story of Navy Corpsman Derek McGinnis. He was providing medical care to Marines in Iraq when he was nearly killed. Through his grit and determination, he's made a remarkable recovery and is now taking on a new challenge.

Casey Wian has the story from Pismo Beach, California.


DEREK MCGINNIS, U.S. NAVY: The goal is to catch three waves.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Derek McGinnis has been surfing for 15 years.

MCGINNIS: But that's the key is just get three waves and have fun, man.

WIAN: But in today's competition, he's a rookie again. It's been almost two years since he was nearly killed by a suicide driver in Iraq.

MCGINNIS: A lot of injuries: above the knee amputation, a brain injury, the eye, my lung. They put me back together really well. As a corpsman, never thought -- I never thought I'd get injured, but it was just how it goes.

WIAN: His brain was so badly damaged, he had to learn to eat, to walk, to talk again.

As he recovered, he dreamt of riding a wave.

MCGINNIS: Since I was hit, I've been asking the prosthetics gentleman, hey, what do you use? What do you use? What kind of legs, what do you think about surfing, because I have a surfboard there, you know.



WIAN: At Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, he met an American Airlines flight attendant who grants wishes to injured vets.

JANICE ROZNOWSKI, FOUNDER, OPERATION COMFORT: I said, Derek, you want to learn how to surf on one leg? He said, yes, ma'am, I do.

And I said, well, you know what? If you can find me an adaptive surfing instructor who could teach you how to surf, then I'll raise you the money to take you all there.

WIAN: Using the Internet, McGinnis found Rodney Roller (ph), an amputee who has made a career teaching other amputees to surf.

RODNEY ROLLER, FOUNDER, AMPSURF: I was just so impressed, and I just had to do everything I can to get him out in the water.

Out there I was so tired, but I just had to do everything I can to show these guys that it can be done.

WIAN: After a week of lessons, McGinnis and a group of vets joined the Pismo Beach Long Border's Club for a friendly competition.

MCGINNIS: When you go out, you just go out with whatever problems you have and you come back in and they are kind of gone. It's amazing. The culmination of it all is great.

WIAN: Casey Wian, CNN, reporting.


DOBBS: Finally tonight, General Grange brought a photograph to our attention that we wanted to be certain we shared it with you.

This is Air Force Chief Master Sergeant John Gephardt (ph) holding a patient at the Balad hospital in Iraq. This little girl's parents and siblings were attacked and killed by insurgents. The insurgents also shot her in the head, but they failed in their effort to kill her.

The only place she would stop crying long enough to fall asleep was in the arms of her caretakers in the hospital. So Chief Gephardt spent his final week of duty in Iraq holding her throughout the night, the two of them sleeping in that chair.

And we're happy to report she was released from the hospital a month ago and is now back with her family.

As General Trainor said, this broadcast has been all about a tip of our hat to the millions of men and women serving this country all around the world and who have served this nation. From us, a profound thank you. And thank you for being with us tonight to join in this tribute to our nation's heroes. For all of us, good night from New York.


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