They called him the Lion of Fallujah, a title that Marine Maj. Douglas Zembiec lived up to right until the moment of his tragic death.
Zembiec had two identities — openly as a Marine company commander in Iraq, and covertly as an undercover operative in the CIA's elite Ground Branch of the Special Activities Division, a position that would ultimately lead to his death in Iraq on May 11, 2007, after heroically cheating it many times, according to The Washington Post
Like so many who died on the secret side of America's wars, Zembiec, who was 34 when he died, is remembered anonymously in the CIA's foyer with a star on the marble Memorial Wall, which honors those who died while serving with the agency, ABC News reported
There are 111 stars, many for those whose names are still classified, posted since the Memorial Wall opened in July 1974 — 40 years ago this month, ABC News reported. But the names associated with the stars go back to the first agent killed in CIA service, Douglas Mackiernan, in 1950.
"Consistent with longstanding practice, we do not comment on who may or may not have been honored anonymously with a star on the Agency's Memorial Wall," said CIA spokesman Todd Ebitz.
But The Washington Post reports there is no question that Maj. Zembiec was working for the CIA on the night he was killed.
Zembiec's wife Pam was invited to a private ceremony at CIA headquarters by then-CIA Director Michael Hayden and later, by former CIA Director Leon Panetta, who presented her with the star.
Zembiec reportedly was involved in a "snatch and grab" operation against enemy insurgents for the CIA in Baghdad when he was shot in the head and died instantly. His men reported back, "Five wounded, one martyred."
"Sometimes I thought he was born in the wrong time," his wife said, "like he should have been born with the Spartans. They fought like lions."
He was awarded a bronze star and two purple hearts for his actions such as in the first battle of Fallujah, when he left cover under heavy fire to climb on an Abrams tank and direct its fire, saving his troops. In all, Zembiec served one tour in Kosovo and four tours in Iraq.
When Zembiec was buried
at Arlington National Cemetery, more than 1,000 people attended his funeral at the Naval Academy Chapel, including 15 generals.
Zembiec applied to join the CIA's covert team primarily to stay away from a desk job and to stay in combat, according to his wife, who wrote the book, "Selfless Beyond Service: A Story About the Husband, Son and Father Behind the Lion of Fallujah
," told The Washington Post. "He went for this with all his guts and glory."
"He wanted to be at the tip of the spear," said his mother, Jo Ann Zembiec, the Post said.
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