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AN HONOR: Marine First Sergeant Bradley A. Kasel, right, receives the Navy Cross from Maj. Gen. Michael R. Lehnert.
CAMP PENDLETON - He was shot seven times. Then 40 pieces of super-heated shrapnel melted into his flesh.
And at three different moments, in nanoseconds laced with adrenaline, confusion, sweat and blood, Marine Corps 1st Sgt. Bradley Kasal took account of his life.
Then he decided it would be OK if he died.
His decision earned him the Navy Cross on Monday.
In November 2004, while serving with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Kasal rushed into a house in Fallujah where Marines were trapped in a small room. They were pinned down by Iraqi insurgents firing into the house from a higher and superior position.
The first time, after being shot and crawling to safety, Kasal went back out into the line of fire to rescue an injured Marine.
"I knew I was gonna get shot (again)," he said.
Now, after having suffered seven gunshots, Kasal decided to again put his life at risk.
He would use all of the available field dressings to help stop the bleeding of a gunshot wound suffered by a fellow Marine. He decided not to use any of the dressings for himself and instead "bleed out." It just made sense that one of them should survive.
Finally, the insurgent, knowing the injured Marines had no way out, lobbed a grenade into the room. Kasal saw the grenade, and using his own body as a shield, leapt onto his fellow Marine as the grenade exploded.
"I thought the chances of surviving were zero," he said.
But survive he did, his right leg and buttock riddled with bullets and his body stung by shrapnel.
If you live through that kind of ordeal, young Marines forever remember your name, major generals salute you in deference and little boys stand in line to meet an American hero.
On Monday afternoon, all of that happened for Kasal during an honor-laden ceremony.
The Navy Cross capped an emotional week. Kasal's father, Gerald, 69, died of cancer on Sunday, just a day before he was supposed to watch the ceremony via video conference from his home in Iowa.
In the same ceremony, Kasal attained his dream as a young man, getting promoted to sergeant major and taking an oath as he re-enlisted in the Marine Corps. He even reached a milestone Saturday, when he ran a mile and a half on his once-mangled leg.
Following the ceremony, the 39-year-old Oceanside resident spent more than an hour patiently shaking the hands of fellow Marines, active and retired, who lined up to greet him.
"You are an inspiration to every Marine," Maj. Gen. Michael Lehnert said to Kasal. Lehnert told the audience of more than 100 that the term "hero" is thrown around loosely in popular society.
But make no mistake he said, Kasal was the real thing.
"Marines past, present and future owe you a debt of gratitude."
Kasal said the most challenging aspect of the ordeal wasn't the 22 surgeries he endured or even fighting the opinions of doctors who suggested he should have his leg amputated.
Instead Kasal said the real pain was knowing the battle would go on without him.
"The most difficult part was being away from the Marines," he said. "My goal is to get deployable again."