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'Lone Survivor' tells story at Gwinnett Medical Center Foundation gala

Marcus Luttrell speaks Saturday night at the Gwinnett Medical Center Foundation gala at the Gwinnett Center. (Staff Photo: Jason Braverman)

Marcus Luttrell speaks Saturday night at the Gwinnett Medical Center Foundation gala at the Gwinnett Center. (Staff Photo: Jason Braverman)

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Marcus Luttrell and his dog are introduced on stage by comedian Jeff Foxworthy on Saturday night at the Gwinnett Medical Center Foundation gala. (Staff Photo: Jason Braverman)

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More than 800 people attended the Gwinnett Medical Center Foundation gala on Saturday at the Gwinnett Center. (Staff Photo: Jason Braverman)

DULUTH — A fast-talking Texan who was ambushed in Afghanistan in 2005 shared a blow-by-blow account of the battle, and his teammates, before a black-tie crowd who gasped at every emotional detail.

Marcus Luttrell, the man the movie “Lone Survivor” is based on visited Gwinnett on Saturday night as the featured speaker of the sixth annual Gwinnett Medical Center Foundation Cornerstone Society Gala at the Gwinnett Center. The movie, which opened in recent months, is based on the 2007 book Luttrell co-wrote with Patrick Robinson, stars Mark Wahlberg, who portrays Luttrell in the film.

Luttrell was accompanied at the gala by his white Labrador service dog, Mr. Rigby.

“Most of the time people have me is to give perspective on what a bad day really is,” Luttrell said. “I know everybody likes to see war as black and white, but if you don’t fight in the gray, you’re going to lose.”

Attendees of the gala contributed at least $1,000 in personal or corporate donations to the Foundation in the last year. The event was co-chaired by Fiona and Dr. Manfred Sandler.

Luttrell follows well-known keynote speakers at the gala such as last year’s featured guests Kyle Maynard, a congenital quadruple amputee and Collins Hill High School graduate, and Aimee Copeland, a Snellville woman who drew national media attention after she suffered a bacteria infection from a 2012 homemade zipline incident.

Previously, the gala has hosted Ted Koppel, James Carville and Mary Matalin, Bob and Lee Woodruff and Frank Abagnale.

Jason Chandler, president of the GMC Foundation, said it was a night to thank the hundreds of donors who gave more than $4 million last year.

“The message that resonates throughout his book is never quit, and we see that spirit in our hospitals every day,” Chandler said. “They don’t give up on healing patients no matter how hard the case is. And the patients, they don’t quit, even if it’s a tough diagnosis.”

The GMC Foundation also handed out its annual awards. Joe Shafer was recognized with the Legacy Award, Jay Desai was honored with the Physician Champion Award, Tom Andersen was given the Distinguished Service Award and Cheryl MacMillan the Desai Compassionate Care Award.

Luttrell, 38, a Navy SEAL fighting in Afghanistan in 2005, was the lone survivor of a mission called Operation Red Wings where three other SEALs were killed during a reconnaissance mission targeting a Taliban commander.

A crew of 16 in a rescue helicopter were killed after it drew fire from the Taliban.

Thanks to an Afghan villager, Luttrell survived despite suffering a broken back, torn rotator cuff, broken nose and a gunshot wound after he fell down a mountain and crawled seven miles to safety. He still battles post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Afghan villager protected Luttrell for six days before American forces rescued him.

Luttrell completed one more tour before he medically retired. Luttrell also was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions in Afghanistan. In the weeks since the movie was released, Luttrell has defended it against critics who called it “pro-war propaganda.”

Luttrell, who has a twin brother, was born and raised in Texas, and began training for the SEALs when he was 14-years-old.

Luttrell and his wife Melanie have a son Axe, who is named after Matthew Axelson, a SEAL team member who was killed during Operation Red Wings, and a daughter, Addie.

In 2010, Luttrell started the Lone Survivor Foundation, which has a misson that, “restores, empowers, and renews hope for our wounded service members and their families through health, wellness, and therapeutic support.”

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