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Beyond the call of duty

Friends, family, community not surprised by Medal of Honor recipient’s heroics

by LEE JUILLERAT, Herald and News 2/3/13

SURPRISE VALLEY — If it seems like the people in Surprise Valley are standing a little

 taller and acting a bit prouder, it’s because they’ve got a good reason.

One of their own, Clinton Romesha, 31, will receive the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama during White House ceremonies on Feb. 11.

Romesha is the son of Gary Romesha of Lake City and Martishia Rogers of Vya, a community in the valley’s foothills just across the California-Nevada state line. He grew up in Surprise Valley, attending a local elementary school and graduating from Surprise Valley High School.

He enlisted in the Army after graduation in 1999. He was posted in Germany, South Korea, Colorado and served in Iraq and Afghanistan before leaving the Army in 2011. For the past 18 months, he and his family — his wife Tammy, who also grew up in Surprise Valley, and their children, Dessi, 11, Gwen, 3, and Colin, 1 1/2 — have lived in Minot, N.D., where he oversees field safety KS Industries, an oil industry company.

“Everybody is excited for him,” said Paula Wilson, one of the owners of Cafe 22, a Cedarville restaurant, expressing valley-wide sentiments.

“Everyone’s just amazed, but no one is surprised,” agreed Janet Irene, owner of the Country Hearth, a Cedarville restaurant where some of Romesha’s sisters were once employed. “Those boys, that whole family, they are hard workers. Their work ethics are astonishing.”

Surprise Valley, a ranching region with a population of about 1,000 people, is located on the western flank of the Warner Mountains, about a half-hour’s drive from Alturas. The valley stretches about 70 miles from Fort Bidwell at its north end near the Oregon state line, south to Lake City, Cedarville and Eagleville, near the Nevada state line.

Irene and others said they aren’t surprised at Romesha’s heroics because he was always willing and able to take on challenges, whether working out a math problem in school or, as an Army staff sergeant, leading efforts by an undermanned group of soldiers against a surprise attack by a far larger force of heavily-armed insurgents.

Romesha’s honors stem from a 12-hour battle fought Oct. 3, 2009, at Combat Post Keating in Afghanistan’s Nuristan province. Eight U.S. soldiers died. Based on accounts in the book, “The Outpost,” by Jake Trapper, Romesha’s squad of about 50 soldiers was attacked by 300 trained Taliban fighters equipped with rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns, mortars and rifles.

He was wounded by shrapnel from a grenade explosion. Although he dismissed his injuries as insignificant during a telephone interview, saying, “Really, it was nothing. I just was a little peppered on my side,” he is receiving a partial disability pension for those wounds.

According to the Medal of Honor citation, “Undeterred by his injuries, Staff Sergeant Romesha continued to fight and upon the arrival of another soldier to aid him and the assistant gunner, he again rushed through the exposed avenue to assemble additional soldiers. With complete disregard for his own safety, (Romesha) continually exposed himself to heavy enemy fire as he moved confidently about the battlefield engaging and destroying multiple enemy targets.”

Michael Ray, Romesha’s Surprise Valley High School social studies/history/economics teacher, said the actions are befitting of the young man he knew.

“I’m certain he would have reacted that way in those circumstances, knowing him,” Ray said. “In a small school and small rural community, you get to know someone pretty good.”

Ray got to know Romesha even better because his son, Avon, was friends with him through elementary and high school. “We saw quite a bit of him in those years,” Ray said.

Ray, who also serves as school principal, said the school had about 50 students in four grades when Romesha graduated in 1999.

“Given the size of this community, it’s unique.”

Unique enough that the school is arranging to have the White House ceremony broadcast live to Surprise Valley students and faculty, and anyone in the community who wants to attend, in the school gymnasium. The broadcast time has not yet been announced.

“It’s a big story for us, certainly,” Ray said. “To receive it is a tremendous honor, and to not receive it posthumously is even greater.”

Since the Medal of Honor was created in 1861, 3,467 have been awarded. Since 1941, half have been given posthumously. Romesha is only the fourth living American to receive the Medal for service in Iraq and Afghanistan, and seven others were given posthumously.

Heather Bordwell, who was Romesha’s English teacher and academic advisor at Surprise Valley High, echoed the sense of community pride.

“I remember many things about him,” she said, terming him a fair student and person with a “lively sense of humor.”

“I wasn’t surprised. I think I knew he would be a good soldier. I’m incredibly impressed by the honor. We’re all very proud of him,” Bordwell said, noting she remembers Tammy, Romesha’s wife, as one of her alltime favorite students.

“When I heard he was going into the military I thought that was a good thing,” said Jeanette Danielson, who taught at Surprise Valley while Romesha was a student. She now operates the Curds and Whey goat dairy not far from Lake City, a community of about 60 people where Romesha was born and raised.

“He was kind of a little more reserved,” Danielson said. “He always kept to himself, but he always seemed to know what he was doing.”

She noticed a change in Romesha after his marriage. He and wife Tammy, the daughter of former Cedarville residents Kevin and Lorin Small, have made regular visits to the valley. During his several deployments , Tammy and the children often stayed with the Smalls.

“They come back and visit and Clint is really different, in a good way,” Danielson said.

Romesha’s closest friend during his growing up years was Jerry Cook, who was a year behind him in school. “We hung out all the time,” Cook said.

Cook, who lives in Ogden, Utah, and is completing a master’s degree in occupational therapy, said he and Romesha try to get together each year.

“We could always catch up in the valley. Every year he’d have new stories,” Cook said, noting Romesha had assignments around the world.

He remembers a 2009 visit, after Romesha’s heroics in Afghanistan, when, “he wasn’t himself.” Although their talk about the incident was relatively limited he said it obviously “was a pretty big experience for him.”

Like others, Cook wasn’t surprised by Romesha’s actions, or by him downplaying what happened.

“For the most part he was pretty quiet,” he said. “If he was pulling a prank, you didn’t even know it at first, which made it even more funny.”

Lynette Shirley, who now lives in Fort Bidwell, holds long-ago memories. While living in Lake City, Romesha often babysat her son Garrett, who is now 20.

“Garrett remembers Clint loving to watch the news on TV after Garrett was in bed. I remember coming home late at  night and finding Garrett still up and having fun with Clinton — jumping off the couch into the beanbag, laughing and being tickled by Clint. Another fond memory,” Shirley said, “is getting Frankie, our miniature donkey, ready for the Modoc County Fair parade. Clint, Tammy and their younger sister, Cami, all helped Garrett brush Frankie’s teeth to make them pearly white. Hilarious.”

Other memories include “the kids swimming in our doughboy pool and jumping on the trampoline. Clinton was such a nice boy, very polite and responsible and a great ‘older’ brother for little Garrett,” Shirley said. “What a wonderful tribute to Clint and such an honor for him to receive the Medal of Honor, and also for the family and for our remote community.”


TOP: A selection of photos throughout Clinton Romesha’s formative years.

ABOVE: Former U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha on duty in Afghanistan. Romesha will be awarded the Medal of Honor on Feb. 11.


Surprise Valley friends, family proud of merits

Plans under way for Medal of Honor ceremony in Washington, D.C.

LAKE CITY — Quiet, but clever.

When Gary Romesha and Martishia Romesha Rogers, the parents of Clinton Romesha, who will receive the Medal of Honor in White House ceremonies on Feb. 11, talk about their son, it’s with suppressed but obvious pride.

Although working out details has been frustrating and complicated, Romesha and Rogers, along with several other family members, are gladly anticipating the trip to Washington, D.C. to see their son honored

“I’m going to be in the background so I don’t need to get nervous,” said Romesha from his Lake City home. Much like his son, he seemingly takes a low-key approach, sincerely explaining, “It’s going to be a great opportunity to be back with our children. Whether it’s the Medal of Honor or a third grade reading award, you’re proud of your kids.”

Romesha and Rogers, who were married 29 years before divorcing, have five children and 12 grandchildren. They’ll be joined by the parents and other relatives of Clint’s wife Tammy Romesha, who also has roots in Surprise Valley, for the ceremonies.

“To me it’s a big step because some days I don’t see two people,” said Rogers, who lives in nearby Vya, a roadside stop in Nevada that serves as an outpost for the Wasco County road department and mailing address for neighboring ranches, including one that’s been in her family for years.

Rogers is flying to Washington, D.C., with Preston, one of her sons, to help calm her nerves.

“I won’t be comfortable but it’s worth it for my son’s sake.”

Both say Clint was raised like his siblings — brothers Travis and Preston, and sisters Tanya Howell and Cami Wakelin — with a strong work ethic. Life for the family has never been easy. Gary Romesha has a small ranch with 20 cows and a sawmill. He’s known for fixing windmills, doing custom farming and has worked for local road departments, among other tasks.

“I’d try anything I could make a dollar at,” he said.

When not raising their children, Rogers worked for veterinarians, cleaned houses, helped with the ranch and took on other jobs.

“That’s just the way it is for kids in this valley. There’s no sitting around,” Romesha said, noting he and his former wife didn’t give their children allowances. “If they wanted money, they earned it.”

“He was kind of like his grandpa,” Rogers said, comparing Clint to her father, Aury Smith. “He was quiet and a thinker. And when he said something, people listened.”

Rogers said Clint, unlike her other sons, never pestered her or his father about wanting his own car. When she asked him why, he told her, “ ‘Well, mom, I watched the other kids … I saw they needed a job so they could pay for a car. I’ve got something better. I’ve got a girlfriend who has a car.’ ”

Clint was so low-key that when he enlisted in the Army in September 1999 he didn’t have a driver’s license.

“He could drive a tank, but he couldn’t drive a car,” Rogers said, laughing.

After a 2009 battle in Afghanistan that led to his pending Medal of Honor, the family knew no details. They learned about the battle from the book, “The Outpost,” that details Clint’s exploits.

“That was more than what we knew,” said Diane Romesha, Gary’s wife. “He told his dad he took a firing position.” “As his mother, I wish he didn’t have to go through all that,” Rogers said. “It’s always in the back of your mind that you don’t want to get that call.” Rogers and Diane Romesha, Clint’s stepmother, believe it helps that Gary served in Vietnam during an Army tour from 1969 to 1971. Diane said when Clint visits, he and Gary have sometimes gone out for hours. Romesha doesn’t discuss what he and his son talk about. “If he wants to talk,” he explained, “I’m here to listen.”



H&N photo by Lee Juillerat

Gary and Diane Romesha have been getting support from Surprise Valley friends at their Lake City home since finding out Gary’s son Clint would receive the Medal of Honor.






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