This story first ran on Memorial Day in 2016.
In 2004, as a part of Operation Vigilant Resolve, then Captain Doug Zembiec led Echo Company 2/1 into Fallujah. As the ground assault commenced, Zembiec and the 139 Marines of Echo Company fought from building to building, street to street, in an effort to take the city. They met heavy resistance. When the fighting was over, Zembiec, as was his custom, gave all the credit to his Marines. He wrote a letter to his wife that said, “My men fought like lions and killed many insurgents. The valor and courage of the Marines was magnificent. The Marines fought with such ferocity that any Marine who went before us would have been proud.” The Lion of Fallujah was born.
From a young age Zembiec wanted to be a Marine. He had an intensity and drive that fit that ideal. His physical fitness was beyond what many people had ever seen. He grew up in New Mexico and was drawn to a sport where all of that would be put to good use. Zembiec excelled on the mat. He won two state wrestling championships and, when he fulfilled his lifelong dream of attending the United States Naval Academy, continued his career at the Division I level.
New Mexico is not a traditional wrestling hotbed and Zembiec struggled a bit early in his college career, but he refused to be outworked. His drive was exceptional, even among his Naval Academy wrestling teammates. The service academy teams are always elite groups of young men who are all able to manage exceptional workloads in academics, military life and athletics. Even in that group, Zembiec’s work ethic stood out. In his senior season, 1995, Zembiec finished eight at the NCAA tournament to become an All-American. Even then he tried to give credit to others by giving his medal to his teammates. The lessons he had learned about being a leader had already taken hold. He would put all of them to use when he commissioned as a Marine Corps Officer later that year.
Zembiec was like a lot of Marines, he loved being the tip of the spear. He thrived under the unique pressure of combat. He led and protected his men through deployment after deployment spending much of his time under fire in foreign countries. The skills that served him well on the mat made him a respected leader that Marines would follow anywhere. He protected his people to the very end.
On May 11th, 2007, Major Douglas A. Zembiec was killed in Baghdad, Iraq. Even his death showed what an exceptional man he was. While leading a raid, Zembiec detected an ambush moments before it happened. He was just able to warn his fellow soldiers before he was hit by enemy fire. When it was over, all his men survived, but Zembiec did not. The man who was called the Lion of Fallujah and the Unapologetic Warrior had made the ultimate sacrifice.
On this Memorial Day, we pause to remember all those who have died in service to our country. Many of those are nameless, faceless soldiers whose stories are forgotten by history. That we no longer remember does not make their sacrifice any less. Major Zembiec was a credit to the Marine Corp, the wrestling community and our country. He was a leader, a warrior, a husband, a father and a son. He was awarded a silver star, a bronze star and two purple hearts, among other decorations in his twelve year career. He is survived by his wife, Pam Zembiec, and his daughter Fallyn.