Sgt. Maj. Larry Harrington walked into Odyssey Tattoo on Veterans Day two years ago with a request for owner Robert Toth.
"Perfect day," remembers Toth. "He said ‘Hey, I’ve got a little bit of tattooing for you,’ and I said ‘Sure sergeant major. What is it?’ He hands me the entire Marine Corps Prayer and I looked at him and said ‘sergeant major, that’s not a little anything.’ It ended up being two full sheets of notebook paper on his back with four inches in between. Seven and a half hours later, we did it, and I was proud to do it on that day."
Harrington, now a sergeant major for Marine Transport Squadron 1, received the Bronze Star at Cherry Point on Monday, and Toth was there to congratulate him.
"I think it’s absolutely terrific," Toth said. "He deserves every bit of it."
Eric Rust, a retired Marine from Jacksonville, attended the ceremony.
"I’ve had younger, junior Marines come and talk to me about how he saved their lives," Rust said. "I’ve just got a lot of respect for the man and we wanted to be here to see him be awarded the Bronze Star."
Harrington was cited for his actions while serving as sergeant major for 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 6, 1st Marine Division (Forward), II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) from July 25, 2011, to Feb. 6, 2012, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
Leading more than 1,600 Marines and sailors, Harrington "always positioned himself in front of the fight and faced enemy threats alongside fellow Marines," according to the citation with the Bronze Star. "Leading the Jump Command Post, Harrington was critical during responses to four Improvised Explosive Device attacks on vehicles, numerous small arms attacks, on anti-personnel IED attack, and a suicide bomber attack."
A humble Harrington accepted his medal from Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Gorry, commander of Marine Corps Installations East at the VMR-1 hangar at Cherry Point.
"It’s an honor," Harrington said. "The one thing that I could say and wish I could make happen, if there was a star that I could wish upon would be the star that I could wish to bring the Marines and sailors back that didn’t come back with me. They worked hard. They were the heroes. Those are the Marines that I look up to that gave the ultimate sacrifice during our battles in Kajaki, Sangin and also in Marjah. It’s about them.
"It’s a legacy written in blood and it will remain that way and I know the legacy will continue. It’s a humbling feeling knowing how we got where we are today and putting this award on my chest. I know that many men and women have done a lot of great things for this institution on and off the battlefield."
Sgt. Maj. Earnest Hoopii, sergeant major for Marine Corps Installations East, said Harrington was instrumental in getting things done.
"Wherever there was a fire, Sgt. Maj. Harrington put out the fire," Hoopii said. "Everywhere he went, things got better."
Harrington had been sent to Marjah in July 2011 when his unit got a change of orders.
"Word came down that we needed to move and we needed to go up north to the Kajaki region and they said ‘Hey, it’s going to get ugly and we’re going to get it and we’re going to send you guys in there to clear it out,’" Harrington said. "Well, we went up there and it got ugly and we cleared out. We saw resilience from the people there and the Marines to continue to fight the enemy out of the Kajaki region and also establish a friendship and a relationship with the locals and even with the Afghan forces, just to build that relationship so that they can go back and take their country over and do the right things that we’ve been taught to do as well."
Harrington was lauded for making a profound impact on the relationship between coalition forces and the Afghan National Security Force.
"When the people saw us working side-by-side the Afghan forces it was a huge, huge bonus for the military forces working over there," Harrington said. "It was really great to see our capabilities and our ability to shake hands and be side-by-side with these guys walking in the same dirt and doing the same thing."
Harrington, a native of Gastonia, has been in the Marine Corps for nearly 25 years and lives in Swansboro. He has been sergeant major for VMR-1 since August of 2012.