On Sept. 29, 2006, Ramadi, Iraq was considered the most dangerous city on planet earth for American servicemen. Navy SEAL Michael Monsoor was there in the midst of it all. On that day he was on a rooftop over-watch in the most contested part of the city called the Ma’laab district. Positioned near the only exit, with an MK 48 machine gun in hand, he was providing security for two SEAL snipers who lay in prone positions on either side of him. Moments later a fragmentation grenade bounced off his chest and landed on the ground...
Although nothing can adequately prepare someone for such a circumstance, Monsoor seemed to be living a life which pointed to it. His boyhood dream of being a SEAL began to be realized when, at 20 years of age, he joined the Navy. He went on to graduate top in the class of 2005 and was assigned to Delta Platoon.
In May 2006, during his first month in Iraq, his unit came under fire during counterterrorism operations. Heavy enemy automatic weapons fire resulted in a wounded SEAL who was left exposed to enemy fire. Monsoor did not hesitate and ran directly into the line of fire to help the injured soldier. The gun fire chewed up the asphalt around him as he snatched his fellow warrior from the jaws of death with one arm, returned enemy fire with the other and then dragged him to safety.
After loading his wounded teammate onto an evacuation vehicle, he returned to the battle. This act of heroism earned him a Silver Star and a reputation for putting others first.
Some months later that soldier had a dream of the incident where the Michael who rescued him had wings. He later had an artist make a reproduction of the image in his dream depicting Monsoor in dress blues with a loaded MK 48 machine gun and silvery wings. As a tribute to St. Michael the Archangel, who he felt was there with them, he included the short exorcism which invokes the warrior angel to “be our protection against wickedness.”
As extraordinary as all of this is, it was merely a prelude to the defining moment of his life in that rooftop over-watch.
…When the grenade landed in front of him, Monsoor knew that the length of the fuse would not allow him to toss it out. He also knew that he was two short weeks away from returning home to family and friends. Plans were already made for him to see his younger brother play in a football game.
With the only exit door at his back, a live grenade at his feet and two Navy SEALs in front of him, he was faced with a very hard decision. It was one of those rare moments when life passes before your eyes. Having already endured so many hardships and numerous brushes with death, no one would have faulted him had he chosen a path to safety.
“He chose a different path,” said then-Secretary of the Navy, Donald Winter, “a path of honor.” On numerous occasions \Monsoor stared death in the face in his heroic defense of others. Once again he and death would meet and once again he put others first.
One of the survivors described how “Mikey” looked death in the face that day and said, “You cannot take my brothers. I will go in their stead.”
“He never took his eye off the grenade, his only movement was down and toward it,” said a 28-year-old lieutenant who lived to tell the story. “He undoubtedly saved mine and the other SEALs’ lives.”
Yet another eyewitness described Monsoor’s countenance as “completely calm, showing no fear, only resolve.” It could easily be said of him what Gen. Pericles said in his funeral oration for the warriors of ancient Athens: “He passed away from the scene, not of his fear, but of his glory.”
Monsoor was immediately evacuated to a battalion aid station. Fr. Paul Anthony Halladay, his platoon chaplain, was with him as he passed away about 30 minutes later.
When he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2008, a tearful President George W. Bush reminded the audience that the day Monsoor died was the feast of St. Michael the Archangel.
“When it came down to laying down his life for his friends,” Halladay said, “his faith allowed him to [do so] without a moment’s hesitation.”
An emotional Donald Winter quoted a passage from scripture already remembered by so many to describe Monsoor: “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Norman J. Fulkerson is a member of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property. He also authored “An American Knight: The Life of Col. John Ripley” and co-wrote “Lighting the Way.” His tributes to other American military heroes can be found on his blog, Modern American Heroes.