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South Texas Living

Poth’s hometown hero returns with Purple Heart

Poth’s hometown hero returns with Purple Heart
Willie Fluitt relaxes at home in Poth with his family — his wife, Stephanie; their 2-year-old twins, christened “The Twinkies”; and their 8-month-old daughter.

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Pascalle Bippert
WCN Correspondent
August 15, 2012

POTH -- If you live in Poth and you hear the name, “Willie,” you probably know who I’m talking about -- outstanding varsity football running back, good student, very popular, hometown boy. He graduated from Poth High School in 2006.

Please allow me to introduce the rest of you to Willie, also known as William Fluitt.

When I sat down with Willie, I only knew him as William Fluitt, Purple Heart recipient. He was quiet, respectful, and soft-spoken with me. He scooped up his little boy, who had just woken up from his nap, and snuggled with him.

William is the devoted father of 2-year-old twins, whom the family has lovingly christened, “The Twinkies,” and an 8-month-old daughter. He married his high school sweetheart, Stephanie, two years after he had graduated. She is a hairdresser at Cowboys and Divas salon in Floresville.

William went to work one month after high school for the Union Pacific Railroad. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 2008. Union Pacific assured him they would hire him back after his time of service and he wanted to serve his country. He knew before he graduated he wanted to be a Marine, like his great-grandfather was.

Serving his country

He did his basic training at Camp Pendleton in California and was stationed in Washington, D.C., before being sent overseas to Afghanistan. While in Washington, William was handpicked to serve on the detail at Dover Air Force Base that meets the caskets of Marines killed in action. He also took part in the military parade at President Obama’s inauguration and was on the cover of the 2011 Marine Corps calendar.

Following his service in Washington, D.C., he was shipped overseas and was assigned duty as a “team leader” in charge of looking for IEDs (improvised explosive devices). He lived in a mud hut for seven months, sleeping on a dirt floor near a town called Sangin, in the Helmand province in Afghanistan.

Clean sweep

Each day, his platoon would search the area in and around Sangin for eight hours looking for explosives, tools to make them, and drugs. The city of approximately 14,000 has long been the center of the opium trade in Afghanistan. As a “sweeper,” William would lead his platoon, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, through brush and dirt, mud huts, and in the “Green zone” -- corn fields.

He would walk first, with his “cover man” 3 feet behind him. William explained that each Marine walked at least 15 meters behind the one in front of them, in single file. The cover man would spray a line of shaving cream where he had walked, to let those following know it was safe to step in that area.

Since William’s eyes were on the ground and on his metal detector, his cover man, “Khach,” would look everywhere in front and back and to the side to protect William and make sure they would not come under fire from the enemy.

Undetected IED

On Aug. 15, 2011, William’s metal detector did not detect any metal, yet when he stepped over a buried IED, his cover man behind him stepped right on it, severing both his legs and a finger. William was carrying 70-plus pounds of gear on him and wearing his “flak” jacket with “SAMI” armor, but was immediately blown 10 feet into the air. He was thrown to the ground and was knocked unconscious for about a minute, then got up and ran to his cover man, Khach, and gave the next man in line his tourniquets to render aid.

William then returned to work, using his metal detector to “sweep” the area clear for the corpsman to arrive; he then had to sweep a clear path for 1400 meters to a safe location, where a helicopter could land to assist the fallen Marine. While William was sweeping the area for the helicopters, the medics saw that he was bleeding, too, and took him to the FOB -- forward operating base, much like a MASH (mobile Army surgical hospital) -- to have his wounds tended.

He sustained injuries to his head, neck, and back from the shrapnel in the IED and his left eardrum was perforated. William also suffered a concussion, a form of traumatic brain injury, which has resulted in short-term memory loss. He spent four days in a tent in 120-degree heat with no air conditioning, no soft mattress.

His family did not know about his injury until he called his wife, Stephanie, to tell her a bomb went off and he had a little “ringing in his ears” as a result of the explosion. He did not want to upset her, since she was expecting their baby. After four days in the medic tent, William was back at work, sweeping through the countryside. His family did not find out about the extent of his injuries until he arrived back home in October.

Brave heart

William was awarded the Purple Heart medal and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement medal with V for Valor.

His award reads: “Heroic achievement in the superior performance of his duties while serving as a designated sweeper from April 2011 to October 2011. Corporal Fluitt conducted more than 135 combat patrols throughout his platoon’s area of operations. On 22 May, while conducting a patrol, his squad came under enemy small arms and rocket propelled grenade fire. Despite the volume of enemy fire, he cleared a path to a tenable position from which his squad could repel the enemy attack. On 28 May, after setting a cordon around two IED devices, his squad was engaged by enemy machine gun and rocket propelled grenade teams, he again cleared safe paths and firing positions so his squad could occupy positions of advantage. On both occasions his calm demeanor and thorough detection skills contributed significantly to his fellow Marines gaining fire superiority and forcing the enemy’s withdrawal. Corporal Fluitt’s initiative, perseverance, and total dedication to duty reflected credit upon him and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”

For family, country

Despite all of the danger Willie faced on a daily basis in the harshest environments and unfriendly places, he said, “I’d do it all again” for his country and his family.

When I got into my car and drove away, I parked in the nearest parking lot and called my dad to tell him about this remarkable young man I had just interviewed, and I cried.

I am so glad our country did not lose this young man. He is a great asset to his family, his community, and his country.

We’re proud of you, Willie!

Your Opinions and Comments

August 22, 2012 3:38pm
Welcome Home! Semper Fi!

Grace Perez  
Floresville, TX  
August 22, 2012 9:20am
Thank you for your service to our country. God Bless You and your entire family.

Ken Semlinger  
Poth, TX  
August 21, 2012 9:12am
Thanks Willie.

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