By Julie Ann Madden
“I knew there were things wrong when I came to,” said retired U.S. Petty Officer First Class Lawrence G. Tentinger. “I was the only corpsman with my men so I wasn’t leaving them.”
His Marines’ air ground task force’s mission was Task Force Tripoli with orders to continue to attack north and secure the city of Tikrit after the fall of Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
It was about 4 a.m., April 13, 2003, when the U.S. Marine unit he was with was attacked by the last remnants of an Iraqi Republican Guard.
According to Tentinger, the enemy “lobbed a French-made rocket propelled grenade on a vehicle they had staged out front — which we were using for cover.”
The vehicle was filled with 16 feet long shells that exploded, injuring several of the Marines as well as Tentinger.
“I couldn’t hear,” said Tentinger, explaining he’s had a ringing noise in his ears since the explosion which left him with a perforated left ear drum, blind in his left eye, and a traumatic brain injury. “I couldn’t concentrate.”
“The Marines’ motto of ‘Adapt and Overcome’ became part of my life,” said Tentinger who ignored his own injuries and treated the wounded around him. “I couldn’t keep track of my writing any more because of the traumatic brain injury so I had two men keep my records. I also learned how to read lips.”
Although he complained of hearing loss and headaches, no Personal Casualty Report was filed, according to Major G.P. Massey. “Although (Tentinger) sought treatment at the battalion level, we were still actively engaged in daily patrols within our area of responsibility with 22 vehicles and 86 Marines, all supported by four corpsmen. Doc Tentinger told us his injury was small and did not wish to seek treatment at the regiment or higher level and the issue was not discussed again…at the time our understanding of (Traumatic Brain Injury) was much more limited and unfortunately as a commander, I was not looking for the signs as we do now.”
“I was one of the corpsmen who didn’t leave my unit when I was injured,” said Tentinger, “so there was no paperwork in place to initiate a Purple Heart commendation.”
And Tentinger is just one of many who aren’t receiving the recognition and awards they deserved for their military service.
Five years later when his commander called him to ask him to be a spokesperson for these veterans, Tentinger explained he hadn’t received his honors.
“The unseen injury is what the new war is all about,” said Tentinger. “No one can see perforated ear drums, brain injuries or blindness but it’s all too common — it happens.”
Tentinger’s injuries led to his retirement and return to civilian life. He served in the Vietnam War as a combat medic with the 1st Cavalry from 1969-1970 and again during the Gulf War, 1990-1991, and as a 2nd Battalion’s Weapons Company Senior Line Corpsman in the 23rd Marines during the Iraqi War. In addition to being a “devil doc” as military corpsmen are called, he is also Fleet Marine Force Warfare qualified, which means he has completed the Marine’s training process, too.
“I’m a Navy man in a Marine Corps uniform of which I’m proud,” said Tentinger.
“As long as I live I’m never going to stop being a spokesperson for the good things the U.S. Navy does for the Marine Corps,” said Tentinger, explaining corpsmen are medical personnel assigned to serve with Marine units because these units do not have their own members trained in medical services. “Any time there is enemy action, you will find at least one corpsman on scene.”
“With less than 2 percent of the American population having even served in the military in the last 10 years, the American public needs to be aware of the real fact that freedom is not free and the price is paid, especially where I was at (when I received the Purple Heart June 12): the Wounded Warrior Barracks at Camp Lejeune, N.C.”
“I take this Purple Heart recognition humbly,” said Tentinger, repeating the words he’d spoken at his pinning ceremony after he received the Purple Heart from Commander Larry Miller, Deputy Force Surgeon for the Marine Central Command. “I stand here today both humble and proud. Humble because I know the only reason I stand here today is because of the Marines who watched my back in combat…I’m proud I’m here looking out at the face of freedom at a place where we know that freedom is not free. The price of that freedom is visible here.”
“We know Akron has a long heritage of patriotism and service to country,” said Tentinger, encouraging people to include the price of freedom in their Fourth of July celebrations so the younger generations will never forget. “The only way we can keep that American pride, keep that tradition going is to never take freedom for granted.”