For 16 hours on March 2, United States Army Sergeant David Wurtz of College Point lay helpless under extreme enemy fire, waiting for an American helicopter to pick him up and airlift him to safety.
25-year-old member of the 10th Mountain Division had been hit twice in the
right leg by Al-Qaeda mortar shells during the first day of Operation
Anaconda, and was trapped in enemy territory on top of a freezing cold
mountain in Afghanistan.
was surrounded by gunfire and danger, but throughout the ordeal, remained
calm, and told the Tribune, “I knew our guys would do their
his companions tamed the enemy fighters, and Wurtz was airlifted out of
danger. He was given medical treatment at five separate hospitals before
being sent back home to the United States on March 9.
home, first to a Washington DC hospital, and then to his family in the small
Queens enclave of College Point.
he returned to Queens, he carried with him the Purple Heart, a medal given
to every soldier who returns home from battle injured. When Wurtz received
it in Washington DC, he was visited by senators and generals - “big
people,” as he called them. They all branded him a hero.
Wurtz doesn’t think he’s a hero. The modest, quiet hometown boy just
thinks he did his job. “That’s his way,” his mother Joan Wurtz told
the Tribune. “He’s so shy. He won’t want all this. He’s a
Modest or not, many heroes emerged in the wake of Sept. 11, and reluctant as he may be, Sergeant David Wurtz is certainly one of them.
Wurtz was born in College Point 25 years ago, and according to his mother Joan, is a “hometown boy through and through.” He went to Flushing High School and Bleeker Junior High School, and was always a “good student,” said Joan. She said, “He was always a good boy. Sweet and quiet. Very shy.” So shy, in fact, that in his 1995 Flushing High School yearbook, he is listed as “camera shy.”
night when Wurtz was 17, he didn’t come home for dinner. Joan said, “His
father Clem and I were so worried. It wasn’t like him at all to miss
dinner. We even started to call hospitals. Then he came home and told us he
had enlisted in the Army. I almost died, but it ended up to be very good for
David . . . He’s 25 and a sergeant. He shot straight up the ranks.”
enlisted in the United States Army’s delayed entry program, which allows
high school students to enlist before they turn 18. He told the Tribune there
wasn’t any particular reason why he enlisted, and said, “I don’t know.
I just wanted to. I just did it one day.”
was assigned to Hawaii, but was moved to the 10th Mountain Division at Fort
Drum in Upstate New York
– on Sept. 11. Was it a coincidence? “I guess,” Wurtz said with
watched the World Trade Center attack on television from Fort Drum, and
said, “Everybody was pretty sad . . . I didn’t know yet that we’d be
going overseas because no one knew who did it. When we knew, I couldn’t
wait to get there.”
isn’t allowed to say exactly where he was, but said his division first
went to the Middle East in late September to “prepare,” and then went
found out in late February that he would be participating in a large attack
on Al-Qaeda fighters on March 2 - later called Operation Anaconda. He sent a
letter to his family that began “What’s up?” to let them know about it
and to tell them, “Don’t worry about me.” The letter was dated Feb.
26. The family didn’t receive it until after Wurtz was back in the United
States, Purple Heart in hand.
Wurtz said the 10th Mountain Division was airlifted to the top of an Afghanistan mountain at about “6 or 7 a.m.” to start Operation Anaconda on March 2. Immediately, they were hit with enemy fire. He said, “We received fire within a couple of minutes. We were basically in a fire fight for the next 16 hours.”
said “a few minutes” after his platoon landed on the mountain, he was
hit with a mortar shell in the right ankle. He said, “It felt like my
whole leg was burning up. It just felt like my whole leg was on fire. It was
minutes after the first hit, while Wurtz was lying on the ground in pain, he
was hit again, this time with a mortar shell in the right kneecap.
he received emergency attention, helicopters couldn’t pick him or any of
the other 40 soldiers injured in the operation up because of the heavy fire.
He said, “I stayed pretty calm because I could hear the guys around
us and I knew they’d do their jobs. I also knew that we had better
equipment, and when night time came, [Al-Queda] couldn’t fight anymore.”
night fell, Wurtz said the mountain became “absolutely freezing” and
helicopters were able to pick up the wounded. Wurtz said, “I never doubted
that I’d be OK for a second.” He added, “I remember the whole thing
really well. I was taken to five hospitals overseas, but I can’t really
say where. I had an operation to clean out my knee. They cut me open and
took all of the fragments out and then stitched me up.”
March 9, Wurtz was taken to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington DC to fully
recover. His family was there to greet him.
and Joan Wurtz returned home from Las Vegas at about 3 a.m. on March 3,
catching the Red Eye to get home from their daughter Samantha’s wedding.
Working on four hours sleep, the two checked their answering machine when
they got home to hear David’s voice. Joan said, “He said something like,
‘I’ve been wounded. I’m going in for an operation. But I’m OK.’ He
kept saying he was OK. But, of course, I was so worried.”
worries got larger when the Army’s Casualty Unit called the Wurtz home at
6 a.m. to tell Clem and Joan that their son had been “severely injured,”
and was being treated. “That was it,” Joan said. “I don’t know how I
got through it. We’re very religious, and God got us through that day.”
called his brother Chris several hours after the operation to tell him that
the operation was successful. The Casualty Unit also called Joan and Clem.
Joan said, “I was so relieved. I can’t even describe it.”
March 8, when Clem was in Whitestone buying bagels, he bought a Daily
News and found a photo of Wurtz being carried away from the battlefield
on a stretcher. The caption called Wurtz an “unidentified soldier.” Clem
told his wife, who called the Daily News. Wurtz’s name was in the
paper on March 9.
same day, Wurtz was airlifted to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington DC, and
nine of his family members drove down to surprise him: Joan and Clem,
brothers Chris and Daniel, aunt and uncle Judy and Lenny Crawford, cousins
Peggy Crawford and Brianne Pawson, and sister-in-law Danielle Auletta. His
sister Samantha in Las Vegas and his brother Kevin in California couldn’t
make the trip, but Joan said, “They were definitely thinking about him.”
waiting several hours, the family was allowed to visit Wurtz, who said, “I
was really surprised. I was shocked. I didn’t expect to see them there. It
really made me happy. It really made me feel good.”
family returned home shortly after the visit, but his father Clem drove back
on March 18 to drive the hero back home. “He didn’t want to take a
plane,” Joan said. “So Clem drove to get him.” Wurtz said, “It was a
really great drive home.”
returned to College Point at about 9 p.m. on March 18. He said, “It’s
really great to be back. I missed my family and the neighborhood.”
also missed his nearly two-year-old daughter Danella. He said, “Since I
had her, I haven’t wanted to do anything else but be with her.”
College Point residents and leaders, including representatives at the
College Point Board of Trade, have been thinking of ways to honor the
injured hero. Councilman Tony Avella is planning to visit the soldier on
March 22 to present him with a City Citation, and Borough President Helen
Marshall is also preparing to honor Wurtz “in some way,” according to
Borough Hall Spokesperson Dan Andrews.
said, “I think this is a big deal. It’s nice to see the neighborhood and
the City feel the same way.”
does the nation, and while in Washington DC, Wurtz was presented with the
Purple Heart, and was visited by “about five senators,” he said,
including Hillary Clinton.
said, “She just told me she was proud of what I did and that she
appreciated it. It made me feel really good that these big people wanted to
Wurtz is proud of his Purple Heart, he said, “I wish I didn’t get
hurt,” and added, “I wish I was still back with my platoon.” Still,
Wurtz said he’s “really glad” to be home, and that he can now
concentrate on family – and the Mets. He said, “I think they’re going
to win the championship this year, man. Look at that team.”
may go to Shea and do more than watch, because The Mets also want to do
something to honor him. Joan said, “We hope he’ll get to throw out the
first pitch. Imagine that?”
Wurtz has to rest at his home near 9th Avenue and 119th Street, and said
that he’s “doing alright,” and that, “he’s not in pain.” He’s
wearing a leg brace and has to keep his leg attached to a heavy suction
machine. “It’s still an open wound,” he said. “They have to keep
cleaning it out.”
Wurtz said he can walk around, and that he is already feeling better. He has
to report back to Fort Drum in 30 days, and isn’t sure if he’ll have to
go back to Afghanistan. His wound will probably keep him in the United
States, but he said, “If I have to go back, I will.”
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