CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — The last artillery Marine to receive a Purple Heart for injuries in a March 19 rocket attack in Iraq that killed a staff sergeant was honored by his comrades battery and brothers in arms at a ceremony here Thursday afternoon

Cpl. Daniel Meinema, 24, took shrapnel to the left side of his head in the March 19 rocket attack, which killed Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin, section chief for Gun 1, and wounded seven others. Members of the Islamic State group were responsible for the attack. 

Meinema, whose award was delayed by a paperwork problem, was joined by the other Marines wounded that day in the attack, to include three who just reported last week from Walter Reed to join the Wounded Warrior Battalion here last week after spending months recovering at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland. 

"I love each and every one of them," said Meinema, who was visibly moved by their presence. He described escrowed how their an already strong friendship forged by gun drills, tireless training and late-night laughs was only strengthened by the attack and its aftermath. 

"They are all my brothers, and always will be," he said.

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Daniel L. Meinema, Echo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment is congratulated following the conclusion of his Purple Heart Medal presentation ceremony at the Marston Pavilion, Camp Lejeune, N.C., July 28, 2016. Meinema received the medal due to wounds received during Operation Inharrant Resolve in Kara Soar Counter Fire Complex, Iraq. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alexander Hill, 2d MARDIV Combat Camera/Released)
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Daniel L. Meinema, Echo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment is congratulated following the conclusion of his Purple Heart Medal presentation ceremony at the Marston Pavilion, Camp Lejeune, N.C., July 28, 2016. Meinema received the medal due to wounds received during Operation Inharrant Resolve in Kara Soar Counter Fire Complex, Iraq. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alexander Hill, 2d MARDIV Combat Camera/Released)

Cpl. Daniel Meinema with Echo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines, is congratulated following the conclusion of his Purple Heart ceremony.

Photo Credit: Cpl. Alexander Hill/Marine Corps

The medal was presented by Maj. Gen. John Love, 2nd Marine Division's commanding general. He was serving as the Corps' director of operations at the time of the attack, and shared his unique perspective with the members of Echo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines.

The artillerymen were deployed with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit when they got the call to go ashore as the Iraqis prepared to retake Mosul from ISIS. The Iraqis were hesitant about the mission to take the attack toward Mosul in northern Iraq because they knew ISIS owned the area up the Tigris River, and it was considered no-go terrain for friendly forces.

The death of local soldiers only weakened their will. U.S. commanders saw the unmistakable need to provide security and eliminate the terror group's ISIS' capabilities.

"Who do you think they go to?" Love said. "Who do you think the commander of [U.S. Central Command] thinks about when you need somebody to go into the dirtiest, nastiest, ugliest austere place in the world and take the fight to the enemy? They didn't look any further than the 26th MEU."  And who did we have in the 26th MEU? We had Echo Battery ready to go ashore."

U.S. Marines with Task Force Spartan, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), on Fire Base Bell, Iraq, fire an M777A2 Howitzer at an ISIS infiltration route March 18, 2016. The Marines fired upon the enemy infiltration routes in order to disrupt their freedom of movement and ability to attack Kurdish and Peshmerga forces. Operation Inherent Resolve is an international U.S. led coalition military operation created as part of a comprehensive strategy to degrade and defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Andre Dakis/Released)
U.S. Marines with Task Force Spartan, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), on Fire Base Bell, Iraq, fire an M777A2 Howitzer at an ISIS infiltration route March 18, 2016. The Marines fired upon the enemy infiltration routes in order to disrupt their freedom of movement and ability to attack Kurdish and Peshmerga forces. Operation Inherent Resolve is an international U.S. led coalition military operation created as part of a comprehensive strategy to degrade and defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Andre Dakis/Released)

U.S. Marines fire an M777A2 Howitzer at an ISIS infiltration route March 18, 2016, at Fire Base Bell, Iraq.

Photo Credit: Cpl. Andre Dakis/Marine Corps

Love said he watched Marines with "unbelievable speed" man Firebase Bell — "a place the Army wouldn't go, quite frankly, because of the quality of life conditions there."

"[Task Force] Spartan was the name; Spartan was certainly the reality on the ground," he said.

'Nothing less than legendary'

Formally known as the Kara Soar Counter Fire Complex, the firebase sat roughly 15 miles from ISIS slamic State group territory and was a key staging area for the Iraqi army as it battled to retake Mosul.

ISIS was none too pleased that the Marines were there, and its militants responded with a rocket attack the morning of March 19.

It was an otherwise normal morning, Meinema said. He had just grabbed some chow and was headed to the guns when it happened.

"We didn't hear it coming," he said. "We didn't see it coming."

What Love described as a "miraculous shot" landed right in the pit of Gun 1. Marines were blown back several feet; the bunker was filled with smoke, dust, and the broken and bleeding bodies of nine Marines.

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Jordan Crupper, an artilleryman, and Sgt. Onesimos Utey, an artillery section chief, both with Task Force Spartan, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), prepare an Excalibur 155 mm round on Fire Base Bell, Iraq, while conducting fire missions against an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) infiltration route March 18, 2016. Operation Inherent Resolve is an international U.S. led coalition military operation created as part of a comprehensive strategy to degrade and defeat ISIL. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Andre Dakis/Released)
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Jordan Crupper, an artilleryman, and Sgt. Onesimos Utey, an artillery section chief, both with Task Force Spartan, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), prepare an Excalibur 155 mm round on Fire Base Bell, Iraq, while conducting fire missions against an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) infiltration route March 18, 2016. Operation Inherent Resolve is an international U.S. led coalition military operation created as part of a comprehensive strategy to degrade and defeat ISIL. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Andre Dakis/Released)

Cpl. Jordan Crupper, an artilleryman, and Sgt. Onesimos Utey, an artillery section chief, both with Task Force Spartan, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, prepare an Excalibur 155mm round.

Photo Credit: Marine Corps

Those in the gun pit began immediately began taking combat care of the wounded, while M777A2 howitzers in the three other gun pits roared to life.

As he received reports and viewed satellite imagery, Love said he knew three things would happen: The Marines would take care of the wounded Marines, the service Corps would honor Cardin and take care of his family, and the Marines of Echo Battery "would turn that anger and sorrow they experienced into a pissed off action Marines are known for."

"That," he said, "is exactly what happened."

Gun 1 was back up in short order. Meinema, who had been evacuated hours after the attack, was back on the line in just 26 hours. The Marines of Echo Battery fired about roughly 2,200 rounds over the next few months in support of missions led by the and units of that ranged from Iraqi army and special forces. 

The artillery crew was cannon cookers were so effective that they completely changed the nature of the conflict, Love said, and forcing ISIS to give up terrain once thought secure. He called the Marines' response , said Love, who described the response as "nothing less than legendary." 

That was because the Marines still had a mission to accomplish, Meinema told Marine Corps Times

"We still had a mission to accomplish," Meinema told Marine Corps Times. "Everything else you put to the back of your head and focus on what you have to do," he said. "You focus on your Marines to make sure they are OK — and you send rounds down range."

That response was possible because In fact, Meinema couched the reaction to and after the attack as testimony of Cardin's strength as their leader, he added.

"It's still tough," he said when asked about the staff sergeant. "I would give anything for him to be here with us. It's tough to lose not only a staff sergeant and fellow Marine, but a really good friend."

U.S. Marines with Echo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment attended a Purple Heart Medal presentation ceremony at the Marston Pavilion, Camp Lejeune, N.C., July 28, 2016. U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Daniel L. Meinema received the medal due to wounds received during Operation Inharrant Resolve in Kara Soar Counter Fire Complex, Iraq. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alexander Hill, 2d MARDIV Combat Camera/Released)
U.S. Marines with Echo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment attended a Purple Heart Medal presentation ceremony at the Marston Pavilion, Camp Lejeune, N.C., July 28, 2016. U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Daniel L. Meinema received the medal due to wounds received during Operation Inharrant Resolve in Kara Soar Counter Fire Complex, Iraq. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alexander Hill, 2d MARDIV Combat Camera/Released)

Members of Echo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines attended a Purple Heart ceremony at Camp Lejeune, N.C., on Thursday for Cpl. Daniel L. Meinema. The Marine was injured in the March ISIS rocket attack in Iraq that killed Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin.

Photo Credit: Cpl. Alexander Hill/Marine Corps

The ISIS rocket expert believed responsible for the attack on the base was killed in an April 3 drone strike. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford also visited the firebase in April to award Purple Hearts to four of the eight Marines wounded in the attack.

About Roughly 170 Marines from the battery remained in Iraq after the 26th MEU arine Expeditionary Unit headed home in April. They stayed in country to man the guns until approximately 200 soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) could provide relief. The transfer took place the last week of May, and the Marines returned home in early June.

U.S. Marines with Echo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment attended a Purple Heart Medal presentation ceremony at the Marston Pavilion, Camp Lejeune, N.C., July 28, 2016. U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Daniel L. Meinema received the medal due to wounds received during Operation Inharrant Resolve in Kara Soar Counter Fire Complex, Iraq. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alexander Hill, 2d MARDIV Combat Camera/Released)
U.S. Marines with Echo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment attended a Purple Heart Medal presentation ceremony at the Marston Pavilion, Camp Lejeune, N.C., July 28, 2016. U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Daniel L. Meinema received the medal due to wounds received during Operation Inharrant Resolve in Kara Soar Counter Fire Complex, Iraq. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alexander Hill, 2d MARDIV Combat Camera/Released)

Cpl. Daniel L. Meinema, with 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines, received the Purple Heart on Thursday, about four months after he was injured in an ISIS rocket attack in Iraq.

Photo Credit: Cpl. Alexander Hill/Marine Corps

"From the bottom of my heart, thank you," Love told the young corporal as he awarded the Purple Heart, adding that the Corps is "grateful for people like you who go out there and get it done."

"You're going to have some physical and mental scars," Love said. "We will help you take care of that. You also have a token of our appreciation. You lived up to obligation, sacrificed on behalf of this nation, and did your part."

Lance M. Bacon is senior reporter for Marine Corps Times. He covers Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Marine Corps Forces Command, personnel / career issues, Marine Corps Logistics Command, II MEF, and Marine Forces North. He can be reached at lbacon@marinecorpstimes.com.