CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (AP) – Cpl. Eric McCue of South Portland, Maine, proudly pinned his Purple Heart medal on his T-shirt. His new pal, Sgt. John Dale, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was hesitant to put his on.

First off, Dale had only one free hand. Secondly, he was distressed by the idea of displaying his medal on “a dress” – his hospital gown.

He relented when McCue volunteered to pin it on a sling supporting the shattered bone of Dale’s upper arm – a sign of the kinship among wounded Marines returning from Iraq.

Three of those wounded, including McCue and Dale, are recovering at Camp Lejeune Naval Hospital where, on Wednesday, they recalled event leading to their injuries as their mothers watched quietly from the back of the room.

McCue, 21, was among the Camp Lejeune infantrymen who marched into Nasiriyah through blinding sandstorms. His unit put out word March 31 that they would be accepting prisoners of war.

The next day, McCue was taking his turn handling those who chose to surrender. As he and another Marine headed back toward the building where his unit was holed up, there was an explosion.

McCue’s legs were knocked out from beneath him. Stunned but conscious, he immediately checked on his companion. That man, uninjured, noticed McCue’s feet – bloody from the apparent land mine explosion.

“At first, I didn’t know it was me,” McCue recalled as he sat in a wheelchair, his legs encased in casts nearly up to his knees.

His left big toe was gone and the one next to it dangled from his foot. Fearful of other land mines, fellow Marines were keeping their distance until they figured out how to probe the area.

“They didn’t want to get close to me,” McCue said. “I pretty much started crawling to them.”

He suffered shrapnel injuries to both feet and lost the two toes on his left foot. He had six operations before arriving Saturday at Lejeune’s hospital, where a seventh was scheduled for Thursday.

Dale, 27, arrived at Lejeune the same day as McCue.

Dale was an active duty member of the military from 1993-97 who returned to the reserves in 2002. He was called active duty in January, leaving behind his job as a computer repairman.

His unit had been attached to Lejeune’s 2nd Tank Battalion. Dale normally handles a missile system capable of destroying tanks, but on April 2 he was manning a machine gun on a Humvee rolling north on the outskirts of Baghdad.

The Marines had encountered little resistance until about the time they crossed the Tigris River, Dale said. Iraqi soldiers camped by the roadside began to fire rocket-propelled grenades at them and lit fires in trenches that had been filled with oil.

The battalion had run into the toughest firefight of its short time in Iraq, Dale said. He took a bullet in his left arm.

“To me, it felt like someone hit me in the arm with a baseball bat,” Dale said. “My arm just hung down by my side.”

Dale ducked back into the truck and called for help. Another truck got him to a helicopter that took him to a hospital. The bullet crushed his humerus bone before tearing through his shoulder and going out his back.

At least four men in his unit were injured that day, Dale said.

“All of them are doing good,” he said.

McCue longs to rejoin to his fellow Marines in Iraq. But he has six to 12 months of rehabilitation ahead.

“Obviously, with my injuries, it’s good to be home,” he said. “But I’d rather be with the guys.”


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