He was killed in Baghdad in 2007. A friend remembers him:
Losing a great combat officer is particularly painful. It is not because an officer’s life is worth anymore than an enlisted man’s, far from it. It is because the challenge of being a proficient combat officer is daunting and difficult beyond imagination. Those that master it are highly regarded by their peers, seniors and subordinates. When a great officer is lost, that loss extends to all the Marines that officer trained, mentored, and led. Ernie Pyle wrote about this phenomenon in a famous World War II dispatch entitled “The Death of Captain Waskow.” In it, Pyle chronicles the despair and heartache of the soldiers who had just lost their company commander. He started his dispatch: “In this war I have known a lot of officers who were loved and respected by the soldiers under them. But never have I crossed the trail of any man as beloved as Capt. Henry T. Waskow of Belton, Texas.” Add about 60 years and change some details and you have Major Doug Zembiec.
Doug Zembiec had it all. He was by all accounts a great father and husband, an All American collegiate wrestler at the U.S. Naval Academy, and a fierce warrior. You only needed to have met him once to know why everyone thought the world of him. Doug was a smart, super-athletic, charismatic officer that always had a kind word or a piece of guidance for even the most junior Marine. He was a good man without a hint of arrogance.
When Doug was killed in May 2007, it hit all those who knew him or knew of him hard. His former Marines spoke eloquently of their respect and love for their fallen commander. At Doug’s funeral, one Marine told Doug’s father: “I was with your son in Fallujah,” the Marine said. “He was my company commander. If we had to go back in there, I would follow him with a spoon.” He inspired that level of devotion.
More than sixty years ago, one of Captain Waskow’s sergeants remarked that “after my own father, he came next.” There are hundreds of Marines that feel the same exact way about Major Doug Zembiec. We were lucky to have him for the short time we did.
Click here to see Defense Secretary Robert Gates speak about Major Doug Zembiec.