Photo by Rachel Larue
A placard marks Henderson Hall’s recreational pool as the Maj. Douglas A. Zembiec Pool at the Henderson Hall portion of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. The pool was dedicated in memory of Zembiec in 2010. May 11 is the seventh anniversary of Zembiec’s death. Zembiec was a former Henderson Hall Marine who earned the nickname “Lion of Fallujah” and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star in 2007.
Editor’s note: Maj. Douglas A. Zembiec served at Henderson Hall and was an individual augmentee deployed to Iraq with Multi-national Corps, Iraq in 2007 when he was killed during combat operations there. Known as the "Lion of Fallujah" for his actions under fire during the second Battle of Fallujah in 2004, Zembiec was killed in action during his fourth deployment to Iraq on May 11, 2007. As we approach the seventh anniversary of his death, we pause to reflect about his sacrifice - and that of all veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice - in service.
The Maj. Douglas A. Zembiec Pool is one of the most popular recreation and training spots on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.
But who was Zembiec and how did he become known as the "Lion of Fallujah?"
Zembiec was born April 14, 1973 in Kealakekua, Hawaii. Following his graduation from high school in New Mexico, he attended the United States Naval Academy, where he was a two-time NCAA All-American wrestler. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps following his graduation in 1995. He served as a reconnaissance Marine and his force reconnaissance platoon was among the first special operations forces to enter Kosovo in 1999 during Operation Joint Guardian.
In 2000, Zembiec was transferred to the Amphibious Reconnaissance School in Fort Story, Va., where he served as the assistant officer in charge for two years. Following that, he attended the Expeditionary Warfare School at Quantico Marine Corps Base, graduating in May of 2003.
After graduating from EWS, Zembiec took command of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment in July of 2003. He earned the nickname "Lion of Fallujah" while leading his Marines in the first conventional ground assault into Fallujah, Iraq in 2004.
Zembiec was attached to a training team as an individual augment from Henderson Hall during his fourth and final deployment to Iraq in 2007, where he taught combat tactics to Iraqi soldiers as a Marine advisor with the Iraq Assistance Group, Multi-National Corps, Iraq. Zembiec’s tenacity under fire earned him the Silver Star posthumously in 2007.
Zembiec was killed May 11, 2007 when insurgent forces attacked his assault team during a patrol. According to his Silver Star citation, during the attack, Zembiec moved forward and directed his assault team to take cover, while he remained in an exposed but tactically critical position in order to provide leadership and direct suppressive fire onto the enemy position. That caused Zembiec to receive the brunt of the enemy’s fire. He succumbed to his wounds and was interred in grave number 8621, Section 60, in Arlington National Cemetery May 16, 2007. He was survived by his wife, daughter, parents and brother.
The swimming pool on the Henderson Hall portion of the joint base was named in Zembiec’s honor Sept. 9, 2010. On that day, guests crowded around the entrance to the pool house to watch the unveiling of a plaque inscribed with Zembiec’s final award citation, according to an article in the Sept. 16, 2010 Pentagram, which quoted then-commanding officer of Headquarters and Service Company, Headquarters Marine Corps Col. Roarke L. Anderson.
"Doug was more than just a brave man," Anderson said. "He was a teacher, mentor and an inspiration."
Across from the plaque is a mural of Zembiec giving orders to his men over a radio headset as they prepared for a patrol during the first battle of Fallujah in 2004. Next to Zembiec’s photo, a watchful lion rests in the corner.