Clearing houses as part of a U.S. military-led campaign to rout al-Qaeda, two servicemen were met with machine gun fire the moment they walked into a dimly lit house in the Iraqi city of Fallujah. One of those men was Matthew Palacios, a staff sergeant and combat engineer in the Second Marine Division. The Army infantryman in front of Palacios was shot and fell to the ground, wounded.
Then a grenade rolled between Palacios’ legs.
Now an employee of Northrop Grumman, this military veteran looks beyond his own career-shaping experiences. Ever cognizant of the meaning of Memorial Day, he remembers those who died while serving in the hopes that he can honor the sacrifices of these fallen heroes.
Heroism in Battle
Palacios confesses to just barely doing enough to get by in high school. All he wanted to do was be a Marine, a dream that began after reading military histories and watching war movies when he was younger.
Palacios had never played competitive sports while growing up in Lorraine, Ohio, a blue-collar steel town outside of Cleveland. But in that cramped house in Fallujah, with no time to think, he grabbed the grenade, ran a few steps and threw it into another room — much like a shortstop throws to first base, he recalled. The grenade exploded at a distance, sparing his life and those of the service members alongside him. For this act of bravery, Palacios received the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
“I was so close to dying,” he said of his daily routines in Iraq. “Almost being blown up in an ambush IED attack or being shot at and hearing the whizzing of the bullets and seeing the concrete snap off a wall near you or hitting the tree above you – there were so many situations.”
A Life After War
After two deployments during the Iraq War, Palacios left the Marine Corps with two medals and a newfound sense of confidence as a military veteran, which helped him to pursue a degree in aerospace engineering – something he would have never dreamed of in high school. He eventually earned that bachelor’s degree in 2014.
Palacios joined Northrop Grumman in 2017 where he is a structural engineer, performing structural analysis on spaceflight hardware. “It’s exciting to work on these projects…things to go into space,” he said. But he couldn’t imagine having the job without first serving in the military. “I gained the confidence I needed. I realized I can actually do it,” Palacios said. “I don’t feel like I got smarter in the Marine Corps, but it gave me the confidence and discipline to make a plan on a particular goal and follow through.”
The Importance of Memorial Day
A day after that battle in Fallujah, his best friend in the Marines was killed in action. Palacios will always remember returning to the U.S. to recuperate from his injuries and attend his fallen friend’s funeral. After meeting “his family and newborn son who will never know who he is,” the meaning of Memorial Day, and the selfless sacrifice of our military veterans, will never be far from Matthew Palacios’ mind.