By Paige Dickerson
Peninsula Daily News
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Cpl. Cliff Wooldridge, 22, of Port Angeles was put forward for the medal by officers in his unit, the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, which recently returned to its base in Twentynine Palms, Calif.
The Navy Cross is the highest medal that can be awarded by the Navy and second only to the Medal of Honor in recognition of exceptional valor.
According to the Marine Corps Times newspaper, Wooldridge thwarted an attempted ambush in Musa Qala, Afghanistan, on June 18 when he killed two Taliban fighters.
Man with machine gun
Then, while reloading his weapon, he saw the barrel of a medium machine gun appear around the corner of a wall less than 5 feet away.
Knowing he was out of ammunition, Wooldridge grabbed the weapon's barrel, pulling the gunman toward him.
Hanging onto the barrel of the machine gun, he then threw the Taliban fighter to the ground and killed him in hand-to-hand combat after the man tried to grab one of Wooldridge's grenades.
The surviving Taliban fighters retreated.
During the fight, two other Taliban were killed, and three were wounded and captured.
"Corporal Wooldridge's bravery and aggression saved the lives of his fellow Marines by forcing the enemy to withdraw from the ambush and dealt the enemy a tremendous defeat and instilled fear in the remaining fighters," according to a posting at an unofficial Marine Corps website.
Military spokesmen said it wasn't clear when a decision about Wooldridge receiving the Navy Cross will be made.
As of this week, 25 Navy Crosses have been awarded to Marines for heroism in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Wooldridge, who was sent to Afghanistan in April, arrived in Port Angeles on leave at about 2 a.m. Wednesday, according to his father, Guy Wooldridge.
Cliff graduated from Port Angeles High School in 2006.
He attended a technical school and, upon his return at age 19, turned his thoughts to a military career, said his mother, Tammy Wooldridge.
"I wasn't surprised he picked the Marines," she said.
"To him, they are the best of the best, and of course, that is what he would pick."
Cliff's paternal great-grandfather served in World War I, his father said, and his paternal grandfather fought in the Korean war.
"When he was going to Afghanistan, I told him to put himself first, to make sure to come back," Cliff's mother said, tearing up at the memory.
"And he told me, 'Mom, my job is to make sure that all of my guys come home alive.
"'My job is to put them first.'"
Guy Wooldridge, who is no longer married to his son's mother, said:
"He's a brave kid.
"I'm very proud of my son, and I'm sure his mother is very proud of him.
"It is something that if you were to ask yourself seriously, you would think it is was happening to someone else.
"I can't believe it sometimes -- you see this stuff on TV, but that is always someone else's kid -- but you look right here, and it is my son."
In the Marine Corps Times article, his father described Cliff as "fearless, patriotic and a damn good shot" and talked about how his 6-foot-3 son was a freestyle wrestler and football player in high school.
Didn't tell his mom
The Marine's mother first heard of her son's heroism when she received a newsletter for Marine families that documented his actions.
"He would call and tell his brother [Aaron] what was going on, but he never would tell me because he didn't want me to worry," she said.
"He had told me he was getting an award, but when I asked what for, he said, 'Oh, just some stuff I did.'"
Cliff plans to go to Australia with his father and brother for a family vacation to relax after his tour of duty.
His mother said Cliff will have a few months break before returning to Twentynine Palms.
He recently signed up for another four years in the Marines.
Reporter Paige Dickerson can be reached at 360-417-3535 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.