ABINGTON, Massachusetts -- "He was killed stepping out of a doorway so someone else didn’t have to,” said Sgt. Christopher Leonard, the former first fire team leader for 2nd Squad, 1st Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment. “He would never let someone else put their life on the line when they didn’t have to.”
Sgt. Daniel Vasselian is remembered by his Marines as a grunt’s grunt, according to Leonard. He was professional and tough with his Marines, while still being approachable and maintaining strong relationships with his men. Vasselian’s wife, Erin, remembers him as the one who gave her strength.
“Throughout our town, he was known as the guy who could make everyone laugh,” said Erin Vasselian. “When we lost Danny, the world lost a great Marine and I lost my rock.”
Reserve Marines of Company B, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, in Abington, Massachusetts presented Vasselian’s family with the Bronze Star medal Oct. 13, 2014.
Vasselian was the 2nd squad leader for 1st Plt., B Co., 1st Bn., 9th Marines when they deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom Sept. 25, 2013. During the deployment, Vasselian led his squad in three heliborne operations and 10 combat patrols over the course of two months.
According to the award citation, on Dec. 23, 2013, Vasselian led his unit while under heavy machine gun fire to support an adjacent unit that was pinned down. Leonard fought alongside Vasselian and witnessed him entering the line of enemy fire to signal their unit’s position to advancing support elements. Vasselian was killed during his efforts. Later, his unit nominated him for a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal. The request was returned by II MEF, with the order to nominate Vasselian for a Bronze Star instead.
“He definitely deserved it, that’s who he was and he completely earned it,” said Leonard. “He had character. He had a great personality, was a savvy infantryman, and he was everything a grunt should aspire to be.”
For Sgt. Aaron Alonso, a former squad leader in 2nd Plt., B Co., 1st Bn., 9th Marines, the memory of Vasselian’s legacy and support from the Vasselian family helped him through rehabilitation from grievous injuries he received just two months after Vasselian’s death. Alonso lost both his legs to an improvised explosive device while on a combat patrol on Feb. 8, 2013. Alonso and Vasselian met during training at the Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry, and were friends until his death in 2013.
“As long as I’ve known him, for eight years, he’s always been the Marine who would pick you up when you were down,” Alonso said. “He was the best guy at his shop. He always had a smile on his face.”
The Marines of B Co., 1st Bn., 9th Marines were thrilled when they learned Vasselian was earning a Bronze Star.
“All the Marines in 1st Bn., 9th Marines believe he absolutely deserves that Bronze star, and there was no greater honor than serving with that guy,” Alonso said. “He was always there for me, and for his Marines. He never shut anyone out.”
For Erin Vasselian, the circumstances of her husband’s death and subsequent award came as no surprise to her and his family.
“He was dedicated to his job, and he told me that his job was to protect his men,” she said. “That’s just how Danny was. He just wanted to make sure his men made it out ok.”
She added that while the loss of her husband still hurts, his Bronze Star and the support the Vasselian family has received from their community and the Marines Corps reminds her that his sacrifice will not be forgotten.
“We are so proud he was awarded this medal,” she said. “There’s nothing that can put a price on his life, but the fact that he has been commemorated through this award and in our community means so much to us as his family. We’re so happy he will be remembered for his actions.”
According to Vasselian’s father, Mark, this Bronze Star serves as a source of pride and comfort for the Vasselian family, but their loss remains very close to their hearts.
“I couldn’t be any more proud of my son, knowing about his achievements with the United States Marine Corps, and knowing what he’s done for our country,” Mark Vasselian said. “It’s bittersweet. On the one hand, I’m very proud of him. On the other hand, living without him has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.”
First Sgt. Shane Dillon, company first sergeant for B Co., 1st Bn., 25th Marines was the primary casualty assistance call officer assigned to Vasselian’s family, and was one of the Marines who was tasked with notifying them of his death. Almost a year later, Dillon was able to present the Vasselian family with their fallen Marine’s Bronze Star.
“Having been there to present that award, I’m glad that we were able to recognize that Marine’s efforts,” Dillon said. “The Vasselians are a great family with a great dynamic and support network. Especially after the experience of being the CACO assigned to the case, presenting this award was one of the most rewarding things I have been able to do in this capacity.”
As Operation Enduring Freedom winds down, Vasselian, along with the 458 Marines* who have laid their lives down for their nation during OEF, continue to be remembered for their sacrifice. While he is unable to witness the outcome of his actions, Vasselian’s valor in combat serves to inspire a new generation of Marines, who put their lives on the line to uphold the highest traditions of their Corps.