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SBISD graduates recovering from suicide truck bombing in Iraq

There’s happy and lucky to be alive, and then there’s the suicide bombing story that Marines Eric Morante and Steven May, both Spring Branch ISD graduates, will tell for years to come after serving in Iraq.

http://www.springbranchisd.com/news/051807may.htm

12/9/2007

Cpl. Eric Morante, 22, a 2003 graduate of Spring Woods High School, and Lance Cpl. Steven May, 20, a 2005 graduate of Memorial High School, were injured on April 20 when the highway overpass that eight members of their platoon were guarding became the target for an insurgent suicide attack.

A bomber steered a large truck toward the highway overpass and detonated an estimated 3,000 pounds of explosives almost directly under the outpost.

The deadly attack occurred just minutes after two chaplains had visited the members of the 2nd Battalion 7th Marines Fox Company 3rd Platoon. A Mass had just been said for several Marines who are Roman Catholic.

One moment, seven Marines and a Navy corpsman were at their post, protected by sandbags and huge metal plates and two heavy machine guns. In the next instant, the blast threw the soldiers skyward along with shrapnel, concrete, solid steel plates and other rubble. Before the dust settled, six of them lay wounded at the scene.

The young Marines’ duty, ironically, was to guard a six-lane superhighway like the Katy Freeway and prevent Iraqi insurgents from placing improvised roadside bombs, or IEDs, along the busy route.

The Iraqi resistance is widely viewed to be stronger in Anbar Province than in any other province in Iraq, and hostility toward coalition forces there has been fierce.

Since the April 20 bombing, Infantry Squad Leader Morante’s right leg has been amputated and he has undergone seven surgeries to repair a shattered wrist and forearm, as well as facial fractures.

His mother, Housman Elementary School head custodian Maria Espinoza, a 34-year SBISD employee, has remained with him at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. She will retire this month and stay with him during rehabilitation.

The Spring Woods High graduate also attended Spring Woods Middle and Woodview Elementary schools. His sister, Gabriela, a junior, attends Spring Woods High.

Eric enlisted in the Marines in July 2003 and had just begun his third deployment in Iraq when the bombing occurred. He blacked out after the initial blast, but forced himself to remain conscious despite massive bleeding until he knew that other members of the platoon’s company had arrived to help his injured men.

His face was shattered by a piece of the overpass, which landed on top of him.

“I’m still upset that we were hit, but I do believe that it is a miracle that we are all alive. That explosion should have killed us at the scene, and if I was given a choice to lose my right leg or die, I’d gladly lose my right leg,” he said in a telephone interview.

No stranger to combat, he has fought in Fallujah City, also in Anbar Province, and led patrols that resulted in the capture of several “high value targets,” or known Iraqi insurgents.

As platoon squad leader, his priority remains with the injured, especially Navy Corpsman Anthony Thompson of Humble, who suffered head injuries and remains in a medically induced coma.

The injured Marines were medevaced immediately to field hospitals near Baghdad, and then to military hospitals in Germany and the United States. The men are split today between treatment centers on the East and West coasts, but stay in touch through phone calls and email.

Cpl. Morante may be moved soon to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

Lance Cpl. Steven May, who was closest to the explosion, suffered a compression fracture of the back. He was treated for two collapsed lungs, had surgery for a badly broken shoulder and is recovering still from several rib fractures.

A defensive goalkeeper on the Memorial High soccer team for four years, Steven enlisted in October 2005, several months after graduating. He was deployed to Iraq at the end of January and stationed in Anbar.

The lance corporal believes that his Kevlar body vest and large metal plates used to protect the military post from mortars may have helped save him in the blast, which threw him about 20 yards from his bridge posting. He was initially pinned under a metal plate.

“I landed face down on top of rebar and concrete, and started coughing up blood and dirt. I tried to keep calm,” he recalls. Steven did not lose consciousness until medical personnel finally sedated him. He woke up 36 hours later in a Baghdad-area military hospital.

“What happened to us could have happened to anyone. I’m happy that it happened to me and not one of my other buddies. I was blessed,” Steven said recently.

He doesn’t believe that his lack of more traumatic injuries means that he has been given a “second chance,” as it’s often said. “I didn’t screw up or do something wrong. It was not my time to go. This is telling me that I have more living to do,” he says.

Julia May, his mother, a choir teacher at Spring Oaks Middle School, acted like a Marine Mom when her teenage daughter, Sarah, also a Spring Br5anch student, reported urgently that a military officer had called their home and left his call back number. Julia assured her that Steven wasn’t dead: That information is shared person to person, not by telephone.

Julia and her husband soon learned that their oldest son had been injured in a suicide bombing, but little more. She later joined her son at Bethesda and then joined him to fly home on May 13.

Lance Cpl. May will be home 30 days and then will be re-evaluated. His full recovery and rehabilitation may take months. If not discharged for medical reasons, he may be redeployed, however. He plans to attend college after his Marine service obligation is fulfilled.

Spring Branch greeted the first Marine home like a true hero. “Our entire neighborhood was out. It was incredible,” Steven says, describing the scene in his family’s Spring Shadows neighborhood as he returned home on the evening of May 13.

“Steven came home to a subdivision lined with flags and neighbors – it was amazing,” Julia, his mother, says. “It meant so much to Steven and to us all. I also think it meant a lot to our friends and neighbors to show the support that we hear isn’t out there.

“It’s obvious to us now as a ‘military family’ that no matter what opinions are held about the wars in the Middle East, the support for our troops is strong. This message will be carried to all of Steven’s buddies still in the hospital and in Iraq, and that is the best kind of goodie we can send them,” Julia wrote in a recent email.

A benefit was held recently in Humble for Navy Corpsman Anthony “Doc” Thompson, who is still in an intensive care unit.

Cpl. Eric Morante, Lance Cpl. Steven May and the platoon’s other injured servicemen – Cpl. John Mendez, Lance Cpl. David Volk, and Lance Cpl. Brandon Mendez – may be supported with cards and letters or other services through the following site: www.operationpal.com.