May 14, 2007
Subject of Times profile dies in Iraq
Marine Maj. Douglas Zembiec said he "never felt so alive" as in battle.
By Tony Perry, Times Staff Writer
May 12, 2007
BAGHDAD -- Maj. Douglas Zembiec, a Marine Corps officer profiled in the Los Angeles Times magazine in 2004, was killed while leading a raid on insurgents in Baghdad, officials reported Friday.
Details of his death on Thursday were sketchy.
In an age when many prefer military personnel to be diffident and reluctant to engage in violence, Zembiec was proudly a throwback.
"One of the most noble things you can do is kill the enemy," he once said.
Zembiec, 34, received a Bronze Star with a V for valor for leading an infantry company in repeated assaults against insurgents in the Sunni Triangle city of Fallouja in 2004.
Bloodied by shrapnel, Zembiec led his troops in combat so close that the two sides were hurling grenades from 20 feet apart. He later was part of low-profile missions in Afghanistan to thwart the resurging Taliban.
Zembiec seemed to revel in the experience of combat. In the magazine article, he was quoted as calling a firefight in Fallouja "the greatest day of my life."
"I never felt so alive, so exhilarated, so purposeful," he said the day after a battle in which two of his troops were killed and 18 wounded. "There is nothing equal to combat and there is no greater honor than to lead men into combat."
Zembiec was widely admired among Marines.
"We can dispute the politics of any war -- Iraq, Afghanistan or any others," said Bing West, author of two books about combat Marines in Iraq, "but we cannot dispute our need for warriors. Doug was our guardian."
Sgt. Maj. William Skiles, who fought beside Zembiec at Fallouja, said he inspired great loyalty among his troops. "An entire company of Marines would trade places with him right now," Skiles said from Camp Pendleton. "They would put down their lives for him."
Zembiec was a star wrestler at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he graduated in 1995. Classmates still tell "Zembiec stories" about his pranks as a plebe and his determination in the wrestling ring.
While attending the academy, he decided the Marine Corps offered more challenge than the Navy. "I wanted to be a defender, defending my country," he said.
After Fallouja, Zembiec was promoted to major and given a desk job at the Pentagon. Restive, he volunteered to fight in Afghanistan. More recently, he returned to Iraq.
He is survived by his wife, Pam Zembiec, and their 1-year-old daughter, Fallyn.