Navy Corpsman Chris Walsh was a medic assigned to a Marines weapons company who ended up on a special mission to save an Iraqi child after a routine patrol in Fallujah last June.
During the patrol a hidden bomb went off in the dirt just ahead of Walsh's Humvee. When the troops began going door to door in immediate pursuit of the bomb's triggerman, a woman came from one of the houses calling to them that she had a sick baby.
The troops stopped, and Walsh noticed that the two-month-old girl, Mariam, was born with a rare intestinal abnormality leaving vital organs exposed outside of her tiny body.
At that moment, their mission changed as their attention turned from the hunt for a trigger man to an effort to save the small child's life.
"I knew that she needed help but I did not think that it would be possible to get her the help that she needed," said Staff Sgt. Ed Ewing. "And I thought she would be another lost child in Fallujah."
Walsh asked the platoon to make Mariam's cause their mission and find her medical help in the United States, so the soldiers started visiting the girl under the cover of night.
"They never knew when we were coming. We did that purposely to protect us and protect their family," Ewing said.
Loss of a Soldier
Walsh would not be able to complete the mission, as he was killed along with two Marines on Sept. 4, 2006, during another routine patrol of Fallujah. Another hidden bomb exploded and they were killed instantly.
While the platoon was deeply shaken, they continued Walsh's mission for Mariam.
"Every time we got to go out and help this little girl, carry out his mission it just boosted our morale," Ewing explained. "Helped us feel like there was hope and if anything we could do for him was to complete the mission that he wanted to complete."
When permission was granted to bring Mariam and her grandparents to the United States, the platoon sent a letter to Walsh's mother, Maureen, who did not know about her son's mission. Helping Mariam leave Iraq would be the soldiers' last patrol for this Iraqi baby.
Before they left, Maureen Walsh said that although Chris would not be "visible" on the trip he would be "very much on that patrol."
It was a last mission for this soldier who dedicated his career to serving his country.
"He was always looking for … his life work and he said, 'I think I found what I want to do.' He had said, 'When I come home [from Iraq] I'm going to turn around and go right back,' " Walsh explained.
Mariam was brought to Massachusetts, where doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston volunteered their services. The surgery was a success. Chris' mother knew she had to be there for the surgery, for her son.
"It made me feel like Chris was there," she said. "He wanted something like this. He wanted to make a difference in somebody's life."