Nearly two years after he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps, Heath Lanctot, a Crookston High School graduate, was officially awarded a Bronze Star with Combat "V" designation for his heroic efforts while serving in Iraq. The ceremony took place in early May in Minneapolis, where Lanctot now lives.
"It was a huge honor to receive this, but really, I didn't do anything that any of my fellow soldiers wouldn't have also done in the same situation," he said humbly in a telephone interview. "Nothing in the Marine Corps can be solely contributed to the actions of a single individual. The circumstances just happened to come my way."
Those circumstances involved nothing short of taking down 10 Iraqi insurgents and attempting to save a wounded fellow soldier while posing a great risk to himself -- all in the course of a couple hours.
While at CHS, Lanctot, whose parents are Steve and Michelle Anderson of Gentilly, served as captain of the football team and was a state competitor in wrestling, among other things. He joined the Marines two weeks after graduating in 1999 and left the military in June 2005, serving as a Reconnaissance Marine for most of his military career. His competitive nature, coupled with great physical abilities, led him to enter and excel in Marine Corps competitions such as running.
As a Reconnaissance Marine, much of his work involved highly physical activities that also required lightning-fast thinking. Finding enemy weapons caches, he noted, was one of his team's major duties.
"We really ventured into the unknown with that," Lanctot said. "It was, at times, very risky."
Lanctot was sent on his first tour in Iraq during the initial Operation Iraqi Freedom invasion in 2003. He volunteered for a second one-year contract and was there for eight months -- from August 2004 until April 2005. It was during this second tour that he experienced "probably the most harrowing day of my life, one I'll certainly never forget," the day he earned his Bronze Star.
On Jan. 30, 2005, Lanctot responded to calls for support from a reconnaissance team. He said the citation he received from Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter on behalf of President Bush that accompanied the Bronze Star describes that fateful day "better than I could."
According to the citation, Lanctot received the Bronze Star "for heroic achievement in connection with combat operations against the enemy while serving as Team Leader, Company B, 2d Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 1, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Central in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"Sergeant Lanctot led the quick reaction force to within ten meters of several insurgents who were firing upon the adjacent team from a heavily vegetated canal," the citation goes on. "As they closed with the enemy, the insurgents redirected their fire and mortally wounded a Marine. Sgt. Lanctot exposed himself to an intense volume of fire as he carried the wounded Marine to a covered position where he could provide medical treatment.
"He then returned to the impact zone and proceeded to unleash a fury of lethal fire on the remaining insurgents. Identifying a terrorist vehicle departing the area, Sgt. Lanctot successfully directed attack helicopters and a heliborne assault force to intercept the fleeing vehicle.
"He then bounded into chest-deep water of the canal and began to search for the remaining enemy. Approaching a hidden insurgent, the insurgent attacked and attempted to strangle him. Engaged in fierce hand-to-hand combat, Sgt. Lanctot pulled the man underwater and then slew him with his field knife.
"Immediately after the melee, he identified a third enemy in the canal who was promptly eliminated by small arms fire. He single-handedly eliminated four of the enemy, and led to the capture of six, including a planner and financier of terrorist operations.
"By his bold leadership, wise judgment, and complete dedication to duty, Sgt. Lanctot reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service."
Lanctot said, "I guess I'm just glad to have made it through. It was really a relief to get back to base that day."
Lanctot now attends the University of Minnesota, majoring in kinesiology with an emphasis in physical therapy, and he works as a personal trainer.
Keeping with the family tradition of service to their country, his brother Nathan works at the U.S. Embassy in China. Lanctot and his mother spent 10 days visiting him there in May.
Lanctot would also like people to know about a fundraising project he is involved with, Hope for the Warriors (H4W) and its Team Wounded Warrior (TWW) program. He will be running in the National Marine Corps Marathon 2007 in Washington, D.C., in October and is collecting donations for the charity. Funds raised for H4W are used to enhance the quality of life for military members and their families who have been adversely affected by injuries or death in the line of duty.
"I am running for my brothers as a way to thank those who faithfully served by my side," he asserted.
To donate, visit the Web site, www.active.com/donate/H4W-TWW/heathlanctot, or for more information about H4W, visit www.hopeforthewarriors.org.