|Purple Heart recipient Ezekiel W. Grovenstein and his mother, Darcy Morger-Grovenstein, listen as his father, Glenn Grovenstein, gives his thoughts during the medal presentation ceremony May 2 at the old Armory in Prescott.|
Trib Photo/Cheryl Hartz
Many men and women in the Prescott Valley area have suffered grievous injuries serving their country. This is the condensed version of the service of Marine Corporal Ezekiel Grovenstein, who already has packed a lifetime of experiences into his 23 years.
The 2008 Bradshaw Mountain High School graduate added another May 2 when he received a Purple Heart in front of his parents and many distinguished members of the military, for injuries from which he's been recovering for almost exactly three years.
June 10, 2010: Grovenstein was on his second deployment to Afghanistan and only 20 years old when his security team went on a recovery and support mission for a pinned-down and severely injured 3/7 Scout Sniper team in the "Wild West" Sangin District. The snipers had driven over an Improvised Explosive Device (I.E.D.).
Lance Corporal Grovenstein, a wrecker operator, was with the CLB-6, a 7-vehicle team of mechanics, first responders and other security personnel. His job was to clear the recovery team's route, but only minimal assets were available. Two previous recovery teams also had been disabled by I.E.D.s.
As the Marines neared the recovery position, they came under enemy sniper fire. The team returned fire and was able to successfully treat the injured scouts.
The team pushed on as darkness fell, and soon had to treat members of another security vehicle, that while serving as scout, had struck a secondary I.E.D.
Again the team pushed on to link up with the rest of the Marines from 3/7 and complete its mission. They found many unexploded I.E.D.s while sweeping with a mine roller, and kept working to clear the path for the other vehicles in their convoy.
Seeing footprints headed toward the top of the hill where the remaining 3/7 Marines still were pinned down, Grovenstein thought that indicated a safe path. Under blackout conditions and using night vision and thermal camera, he drove up the hill. But the enemy was watching, and set off a command-initiated I.E.D. that mangled the Marines' MAT-V vehicle and rendered four of its occupants unconscious with concussions. The vehicle's gunner returned fire until the remaining four security vehicles could come to their aid.
A British medical crew evacuated the massive casualties of the overall engagement, while the remaining uninjured Marines from CLB-6 successfully completed the recovery mission.
Grovenstein has only hazy memories of the after-blast.
"I only recall blurry vision, ringing and bleeding from the ears and nose, and vomiting," he said.
He suffered traumatic brain injury, memory and partial hearing loss, speech and language impairment, and spinal injuries to his neck and back. Although he does not yet move or speak with complete ease, he downplays his ongoing therapy.
But with his 90-year-old grandfather - a WW II veteran of Iwo Jima - watching from Montana via a Skype-feed on a laptop computer set up at Prescott's Grace Sparks Activity Center, "Zeke" stood straight and tall during the Purple Heart presentation ceremony.
After Central Arizona Young Marines posted the colors, Chaplain Al James with Korean War Veterans Ed Reeves Chapter read from Ephesians about putting on the armor of God.
"This passage suits a warrior's heart," James said.
The scent of burning sage filled the gym as Grovenstein received a blessing and a Warrior Medal of Valor from the Granite Gourd Mountain Society Native Americans.
His parents, Glenn (a teacher at Bradshaw Mountain High) and Darcy (retired BMHS teacher) Morger-Grovenstein barely held back tears as Col. Fred L. Cone, a Navy Cross recipient, pinned the Purple Heart medal to their youngest son's chest.
The couple's two older sons, Emory and Whitney, continue to serve in the U.S. military.
"Emory is with the 4th Infantry Army Strikers and is training the Afghani National Army. He's very optimistic about what's happening there," Darcy said. "Whitney is at Ft. Hood with the Army 1st Cavalry. He flies Apache helicopters."
The youngest brother, who completed a 4-year stint with the Marines this past August, left for a new job in Alaska, where his sister lives, the Monday after the ceremony.
"I do private security work, and will continue consulting for a nutritional business called Zeal for Life," he said. "I'm excited to be going to Alaska."
Several friends made extra efforts to attend his ceremony.
Ethan Hutchinson, who served with Zeke, hurried through a final exam at Yavapai College.
Fellow Class of 2008 alum and now Phoenix resident Jordan Purdue drove down from a work assignment in Utah to make it just in time.
"It means a lot to me to be here," Purdue said.
The same could be said for all who attended, thankful that Zeke Grovenstein came home safely, and hopeful that all who serve their country also will be so blessed.