Ten years after 1st Lt. Louis Allen's death, his widow is still fighting for him to receive a Purple Heart.
"When my husband was leaving [for Iraq], he was saying how awesome it would be to tell his kids he had a part in this history," Barbara Allen said. "That was taken from him. He wasn't even allowed to contribute to that. He can't tell his story, nobody's telling his story. He just vanished. His whole legacy is gone."
Capt. Phillip Esposito, shown with his wife Siobhan Esposito, was mortally wounded in the same attack that killed Allen.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Siobhan Esposito
A fellow soldier, Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez, was accused of killing them by setting off a claymore mine through the window into Esposito's office. After a lengthy court-martial, on Dec. 4, 2008, Martinez was acquitted of premeditated murder.
All three soldiers belonged to the New York National Guard's 42nd Infantry Division.
At the time, it was believed to be the first fragging case of the Iraq war. Martinez was a supply sergeant, Esposito was his company commander, and Allen was the company operations officer.
Defense lawyers accused the Army of fixating on Martinez very early on and attacked the credibility of at least one witness against their client, according to media reports at the time. Prosecutors, meanwhile, have said several factors could have swayed the jury's decision, including a possible opposition to the death penalty. A conviction during a military trial by jury requires a two-thirds majority vote.
Allen has tried several times throughout the years to have the Purple Heart awarded to her late husband.
She even wrote a book, titled "Front Toward Enemy," that takes readers from the morning she learned her husband was dead to the stunning acquittal of the man accused of killing him. In her book, Allen wrote about the frustration and despair she felt as the legal machine dragged on, and her anger when she learned, after the acquittal, that Army officials had rejected, without consulting the Allen and Esposito families, an offer by Martinez to plead guilty to the murders.
Most recently, she worked with her congressman, Rep. Sean Maloney of New York, to submit a congressional inquiry. She now has a request before the Army Board for Correction of Military Records.
"This is still something that I'm kind of tied to," Allen said about her efforts. "Every so often, I give this another shot."
Allen, who lives in New York with the couple's four sons, said she has tried to fight privately for her husband.
"I tried to do this quietly, and I've just been rolled over," she said.
She added that she has received support from other veterans, including two Vietnam vets who gave her their Purple Hearts in honor of her husband.
Staff Sgt. Alberto B. Martinez was charged with murdering two of his superiors in 2005 at a base outside Baghdad. He was acquitted.
Photo Credit: Associated Press
A large part of Allen's quest is to have her husband's death reclassified as hostile.
According to paperwork provided by Allen, her husband died from blast and shrapnel injuries. His death was marked as a non-hostile death, and it was ruled to be a homicide.
"The government states that Lt. Allen was not killed by the enemy," she wrote in her petition to the Army board. "Charges brought against a fellow soldier resulted in an acquittal of that soldier. Therefore the government failed to substantiate its claim that anyone other than an 'enemy' is responsible for Lt. Allen's death."
She added: "Should the government stand by its position, any individual who willfully inflicts death upon an American soldier while in a combat zone meets the definition of 'enemy.' Therefore Lt. Allen's death meets Purple Heart criteria."
In response to a query from Army Times, the Army "found no authority to award the Purple Heart under these circumstances," said Paul Prince, an Army spokesman, in a statement. "There is no nexus to enemy action. Death or injury caused by the acts or misconduct of other soldiers not connected to enemy action or inspired by foreign terrorist organizations do not, under current law and regulations, meet the criteria for award of the Purple Heart."
Army Regulation 600-8-22, which governs military awards, outlines the criteria that must be met for the awarding of the Purple Heart.
It includes wounds received in action against an enemy of the United States; wounds received in action with an opposing armed force of a foreign country in which U.S. forces are or have been engaged; wounds received during military operations while serving outside the U.S. as part of a peacekeeping force; or those who are killed or wounded in action by friendly fire.
As of Monday, the Army board had not made a decision on Allen's petition, she said.
Barbara Allen has been trying for years to restore the legacy her husband would have wanted to leave.
Photo Credit: Courtesy photo
Allen is adamant about continuing to fight for her husband.
"I can't let it go," she said. "He wouldn't stop for me, so I'm not going to stop until he gets his legacy back. It's just the right thing to do."
Barbara Allen said she has spoken with the families of Capt. Christopher Seifert and Sgt. Wesley Durbin, who also were killed by their fellow soldiers. In those cases, both killers were convicted and sent to prison, she said.
"They would like Purple Hearts for their husbands, too," she said.
Seifert and Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone were killed in March 2003 in a grenade and shooting attack on the Kuwait-Iraq border. Fourteen other troops were wounded. Then-Sgt. Hasan Akbar was convicted for carrying out the attack.
"All soldiers killed in combat zones, willfully killed by other soldiers, were all denied Purple Hearts," Barbara Allen said. "It's not just me."
Barbara Allen said she and her sons are doing well – at least one is now old enough to start driving, while others are getting braces. She now works on behalf of veterans in her home county in New York.
"We're just doing our thing, and every now and then I let myself get sucked back," she said about fighting for the Purple Heart. "I don't know if I'm persistent or a masochist, but this is what I'm doing."
Her husband would be "heartbroken," she said, if he knew about the obstacles she's faced, Barbara Allen said.
"He'd be heartbroken that the military he believed in so deeply and was so proud of had so strongly betrayed him," she said.
Michelle Tan is the editor of Army Times and Air Force Times. She has covered the military for Military Times since 2005, and has embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Haiti, Gabon and the Horn of Africa.