Two Marines, Cpl. Jonathan Yale, 21, and Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter, 19, were assigned April 22 to guard the main gate to a base in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province, once an insurgent stronghold and still dangerous. Dozens of Marines and Iraqi police lived there.

Just after dawn the two spotted a 20-foot-long truck speeding toward the gate, weaving through concrete barriers. Iraqi police ran for their lives. Yale and Haerter tried to wave off the truck, but it kept coming. They opened fire, their bullets stitching the radiator and windshield.

A few dozen feet from the gate, it exploded. Loaded with a ton of explosives, its driver was on a suicide mission to kill Marines and Iraqis.

Haerter was dead; Yale would be soon. Without their steadfastness, the corps said, the truck would have penetrated the compound and 50 or more Marines and Iraqis would have died. The incident unfolded in about six seconds.

The two Marines have been awarded the Navy Cross, the second-highest combat award for Marines and sailors. Their families will receive the decorations early in 2009.