Ivan Krimker, a Navy veteran, received a Purple Heart this year, 17 years after he deployed to Iraq and was wounded in action.
Krimker deployed to Iraq as a hospital corpsman in the Navy with Alpha Company Raiders 1st Battalion Marines in the summer of 2004. He says he joined the military because of 9/11.
"I was very impacted by what happened," Krimker said.
Initially, his platoon deployed to the southern part of Iraq where they were training the Iraqi National Guard, but after a few weeks, they headed further north because they were told there was insurgent activity in the city of Najaf, Iraq.
"As we entered the city, the feeling was very eerie, there was nobody in the streets, [we saw] burning tires, almost like what you would see in a movie. You could tell something was about to happen," Krimker said.
He says almost immediately they were shot at and that intense fighting went on for about four days. They stayed in Najaf for about a month and eventually the fighting moved to a mosque at the center of the city.
"As they were cornered, they became a little more bold, the fighting became more intense, obviously they didn't have anywhere to go," Krimker said.
The final operation took place under the darkness of evening hours, he says almost everyone including him and his staff sergeant were hit by shrapnel from RPGs blowing up all around them.
"When I opened my eyes, I heard the staff sergeant screaming in the middle of the street. His helmet had come off and so I ran immediately, ran over there. I was trying to help him, trying to look where the bleeding was coming from," Krimker said.
He says he was able to pull the staff sergeant out of the gunfire and toward a building. When it was all over, two of his Marines died. Now, every year, as many of the 28 survivors who can, come to Camp Pendleton from around the country to remember the two who made the ultimate sacrifice.
More than a dozen from the original platoon, including the two who were killed in action, received the Purple Heart after that battle, Krimker was not one of them.The Purple Heart is one of the oldest awards in the United States military. It's awarded to anyone who was wounded or killed in any action against an enemy of the United States.
"In combat, in a place that's foreign to us, I didn't have along with me my medical bags and life saving equipment, forms to fill out to write down what was happening," Krimker said.
He said he never thought that much about it, but recently as he started talking more about what happened, friends encouraged him to submit paperwork to receive the honor. He says he contacted lawyers from the Veterans Legal Institute, a non-profit that provides pro bono legal services to veterans for help. They worked on his case and submitted the paperwork on his behalf so that he could receive the honor.
"The Purple Heart is not a medal that you get for doing something, it's a medal that you get for being somewhere and getting hurt and so it's sort of a testament to the fact that you were in combat and that you were willing to risk your life for your country," Krimker said.
He says he's proud to have the medal all these years later and wants it to be a reminder of the two who gave everything and the experiences that would change his life forever.
Since it was first awarded in 1932, more than 1.8 million Purple Hearts have been awarded to American service members.