Don't Tell Him He's a Hero

Firefighter Nick Kalt almost died in Iraq

Don’t try calling this man a hero to his face.

"It embarrasses me, it does," firefighter Nick Kalt said. "To me the heroes are the guys we lost over there."

But if you listen to his story, a story he doesn’t normally talk about, it’s hard to call him anything else.

"Spent 16 weeks every single day from dawn until dusk with him, and never heard a word about it," firefighter John Aiello said.

Kalt is one of the newest firefighters at firehouse 12 in Long Beach, but he's no rookie at risking his life.

In 2002, this Naval Academy graduate and Camp Pendleton Marine was involved in a training accident.

"So, I lost these two fingers, and I lost the ends of these fingers as well," Kalt said.

He managed to hold onto his sense of humor.

"Gloves always feel a little funny," he said.

And refused to let go of his sense of duty.

"Do you want to stick around, and I said yeah, I do."

He made a full recovery, was promoted to Captain and led a platoon of 40 Marines into Iraq. It was five years ago this week that the U.S. made its initial move through Fallujah. The platoon was mainly responsible for sweeping buildings for any sign of insurgents.

"We were finding all sorts of weapons and explosives,” he said.

One day in a Fallujah neighborhood, they found more than what was left behind.

"I don't know if they planned on us being there. We certainly didn't plan on them being there," Kalt said.

The platoon was outnumbered and under fire.

"It felt like getting hit with a baseball bat… I felt the round go through me. It was a really weird sensation,” Kalt said. “I was like, man, I really don't want to die here.  I don't want to die in a place like this.”

He nearly did.

Kalt was sedated for two weeks and doctors removed part of his intestine.

"I'd imagine I came pretty close to dying. The doctors were amazing," he said.

He spent a combined five weeks in four hospitals. While the medication made his memory a little fuzzy, and his stomach a little nauseous, there's one visitor he'll never forget -- President George W. Bush.

"I'm glad I didn't throw up on him because he was wearing a pretty nice suit," Kalt said.

His purple heart was delivered in person.

"It was great, definitely the highlight of my life," Kalt said.

Seeing him now, you'd never know, and he certainly wouldn't tell you.

This week, it's these kinds of heroes we honor -- veterans who sacrificed for total strangers. Which is what Nick Kalt still does.

"It's a service industry,” he said. “The military is a service industry. The fire department is a service industry… That's the goal of the job, is to help people."

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