John's Journal...

Wounded Warrior and American Hero - Thomas Lee

A Hero Among Us

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: Thomas Lee, Jr. is a Staff Sgt E-6. His latest tour was to Taji, Iraq. He also had a tour to Afghanistan and a brief tour in Balugi, Iraq. I met Thomas Lee on a deer hunt with Trijicon Optics (, a big supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project ( in Duvall County, Texas, at the Duval County Ranch ( Not very often do you get to meet a true American hero. However I believe once you hear Thomas’s story you’ll understand why I’ve defined him in this way. This is a soldier’s story.

About a minute after I put my tourniquet on, my driver, Orapeza, came down through my hatch.  Mine was thClick to enlargee first hatch back from the driver hatch in the vehicle.  I told Orapeza that I had a wound to my arm and my elbow, so I couldn’t get my tourniquet on as tight as I needed to in order to stop the bleeding.  He didn’t even hear me explain the extent of my injury before he took a tourniquet out of his pack and began to apply it to my leg.  He put another tourniquet on my leg above my tourniquet to stop the bleeding.  He got me prepped for anyone else who might come and rescue us. All this time, we were still under heavy enemy fire.Orapeza climbed out of the vehicle to check on the rest of our men, as I heard bullets pinging off the vehicle. Orapeza went immediately to Private Wilson, who was on top of the vehicle, and helped him get stabilized until help could arrive. He called down into the vehicle to try and find out the status of the rest of our team and next took care of Rogers and stabilized him. He also saw that two of our soldiers had been killed in the explosion, Private Worthington and Staff Sergeant Hagen, who was the vehicle commander and gunner. Hagen had been right in front of the blast when it went off.  Private Worthington was sitting down below, right on top of the blast.

As Orapeza rendered first aid to all of us, he was also collecting ammunitions magazines. Click to enlargeNext he climbed outside the vehicle and began to fight off the enemy by himself. I didn’t know what was happening, although I could hear that we were still receiving fire. However, I didn’t know where we were, or where the enemy was. Since we had had a large hole blown through the right side of our vehicle, I crawled out of that hole to make sure that the enemy wasn’t coming from that direction. 

I found out later that the enemy was coming from south of us tClick to enlargeo the vehicle to try and kill us and take whatever equipment they could find. I learned that there were somewhere between 6-8 of the enemy trying to get to us. Orapeza returned fire to pin down the enemy and keep them from reaching us. Since we didn’t have any communications with the other vehicle, we couldn’t let our platoon sergeant in the other vehicle know that we were blown up and injured. While we were still under fire, Orapeza jumped off our vehicle and ran through open country under fire to the second vehicle behind us. As soon as Orapeza told the second vehicle that we’d been blown up and still were under fire, he ran back the 200 yards to our vehicle, under fire. Singlehandedly, he continued to fight off the enemy until help could arrive. He was the only one in our vehicle capable of returning fire, and he came back for us. The enemy kept trying to come into our position and kill us, and Orapeza fought them off singlehandedly with his only weapon an M4 carbine. I don’t know how long the battle lasted, but I do know Orapeza was by himself for what seemed like a long time. He managed to keep the enemy at bay. I crawled in and out of the vehicle twice, so he was fighting by himself for at least 20 minutes. 

Tomorrow: Help Arrives

Check back each day this week for more about "Wounded Warrior and American Hero - Thomas Lee"

Day 1: A Soldier’s Story
Day 2: A Hero Among Us
Day 3: Help Arrives
Day 4: Awake to Life
Day 5: What Is the Wounded Warrior Project


Entry 438, Day 2