Korean War veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Duane Dewey has died at the age of 89. The retired US Marine Corps Corporal was described by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as being “made of steel” after risking his life to save his fellow squad members.
Dewey’s death was announced by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, and it was reported he’d been suffering from numerous ailments over the past few years. The organization wrote in its press release:
“The Congressional Medial Society today announced that Duane E. Dewey, Medal of Honor recipient, passed away on Oct. 11, 2021, in Saint Augustine, Florida, at the age of 89.”
Duane Dewey was born on November 16, 1931 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In March 1951, he and his cousin drove to Kalamazoo and enlisted in the Marine Corps. During his first day of special training at Camp Pendleton in California, he volunteered for machine gun training. A few months later, he entered the Korean War and was stationed north of the 38th Parallel on the Korean Peninsula.
On April 16, 1952, he was serving near Panmunjom, Korea with the 3rd Squad, Weapons Platoon, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. He and his squad were surrounded by approximately 600 Chinese soldiers, and were beginning to run low on ammunition.
During the assault, the troops started having enemy grenades thrown at them. One landed beside Dewey, and in a split second the Marine Corps Corporal covered the blast with his body, despite having already been injured in his legs by an earlier grenade and shot in the stomach.
“I grabbed that, and my first impulse was to throw it. But I’m lying flat on my back, and I don’t know if I can get it out of reach of my own men,” he once recalled. “So I scooped it under me and grabbed [the corpsman] and pulled him down on top of me. It went off and took us both a couple feet off the ground. Then I told him, ‘Better get me out of here. I don’t think I can take any more of this.’”
Dewey was medevaced to Japan after receiving treatment in Korea and later shipped back to the United States. He spent a total of 50 days recuperating from his injuries, which were largely isolated to his hip region. For his efforts, the Marine Corps Cpl. was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Eisenhower. During the ceremony in the Oval Office, the President told Dewey he “must have a body made of steel.”
The official citation for the honor read: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a gunner in a machine-gun platoon of Company E, in action against aggressor forces.
“His indomitable courage, outstanding initiative, and valiant efforts in behalf of others in the fact of almost certain death reflect the highest credit upon Cpl. Dewey and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service,” it concluded.
The visitation and memorial service for Duane Dewey will be held at Filbrandt Family Funeral Home in South Haven, Michigan on October 22, 2021.
USA – -(AmmoLand.com)- Most of the more than 3,500 men who received the Medal of Honor earned it for actions taken during a conflict. Navy Rear Adm. Claud A. Jones, however, is one of the few who received it for his heroics during a mysterious natural disaster.
Jones was born on Oct. 7, 1885, in an area once called Fire Creek, West Virginia. He had a sister named Ida and attended school in Fayetteville and Charleston, both in West Virginia.
After high school, Jones earned an appointment to the Naval Academy, graduating in 1906. He received his commission as an ensign two years later after serving on the battleships Indiana and New Jersey.
From 1909 to 1915, he was assigned to several different ships; he also received post-graduate education at the Naval Academy and at Harvard University, where he earned a Master of Science degree.
By late 1915, Jones was a lieutenant and senior engineering officer on the armored cruiser Tennessee, which was renamed the USS Memphis in May 1916. The Memphis spent that summer at anchor not far off the coast of Santo Domingo City, Santo Domingo, now called the Dominican Republic.
If dangerous weather approached, its crew was prepared to get underway quickly to move to deeper waters. But on Aug. 29, there simply wasn’t enough time. At about 3:45 p.m., the ship’s commanding officer thought the swell was increasing, according to an account from Navy Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Withers Jr., who was on the ship at the time. So, the 31-year-old Jones and his fellow sailors in the engine room began readying the ship’s boilers and engines to get underway.
But before the engines had time to get the ship moving further out to sea, enormous waves — unaccompanied by wind — began smashing into the ship without warning.
“Wave followed wave at intervals of perhaps 30-40 seconds,” Withers recounted in a journal. “These waves were so large and their faces became so steep that they simply flowed over the ship.”
The waves, which reportedly reached up to 75 feet high, began to drag the ship toward the beach. Quickly, anything below deck became a death trap.
In the engine room, boilers and steam pipes burst open around Jones, scalding him in steam. Thousands of tons of water came down on him as he remained in the room in near darkness. Jones refused to leave his post because he thought he’d heard the engines turning, even though Withers later said what he’d heard was “the engines breaking up under the pounding they were getting from the bottom of the ship.”
When the boilers exploded, Jones and two other men rushed into the rooms where the boilers were kept, dragging and carrying the men trapped there into rooms where the air was breathable.
Over the next several hours, lifelines to shore were painstakingly established, and they were able to get many of the men to the beachhead safely. However, 43 men lost their lives during the crisis, and many more were seriously injured, including Jones. When he finally made it to the deck of the ship, Jones requested that those who were injured get to shore before him. His bravery and selflessness inspired his men, who refused to go unless he went, too.
The ship didn’t appear to be damaged above the waterline, but below deck was a different story. The hull was crushed by rocks and coral, and the lower decks were flooded, leaving the ship stranded in shallow water. That’s where the wreck remained until 1937, when ship-breaking capabilities became available to salvage it.
An investigation later revealed that a tropical disturbance had passed south of the area the night before, but it didn’t cause any other markers of severe weather except the heavy swells that caused the tragedy.
Jones eventually recovered from his injuries. Soon afterward, he married Margaret Cox. They had a son named Frank and a daughter named Peggy.
Jones remained in the Navy, serving ashore in industrial positions through the end of World War I. He continued to work his way up the ranks, mostly serving in engineering billets. By the early 1930s, he had completed a few Navy Department tours with the Bureau of Engineering, served in London as an assistant naval attaché, and was the senior engineering officer with the battle fleet.
It took years for Jones to be recognized for his heroics during the Memphis wreck. On Aug. 24, 1932, the now-commander received the Medal of Honor from President Herbert Hoover during a White House ceremony. Two of his shipmates also received the high honor: Machinist Charles H. Willey, as well as Chief Machinist’s Mate George William Rud, who died during the incident.
By the early 1940s, Jones was based in Washington, D.C., and had attained the rank of rear admiral when World War II started. Throughout most of the war, he served as an assistant chief for the Navy’s Bureau of Ships and earned the Legion of Merit for his work during that time.
One of Jones’ last roles in the Navy was as director of the Naval Experiment Station in Annapolis, Maryland, a position he held until the end of 1945. He retired in June of 1946.
Unfortunately, on Aug. 8, 1948, Jones died at his home in Charleston, West Virginia, after suffering a stroke. He was 62. Jones was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
His legacy lives on. Jones’ son, Frank, followed in his father’s footsteps by also becoming a rear admiral in the Navy and commanding the Naval Ship Engineering Center in the 1970s. The escort ship USS Claud Jones, which was in service between 1959 and 1974, was named for his father. And, since 1987, the Claud A. Jones Award has been awarded to a fleet or field engineer who’s made significant contributions to improving operational engineering or material readiness.
Milton L. Olive III came from humble beginnings, bouncing between Chicago and his grandparents’ farm in Mississippi. Despite his ordinary upbringing, Olive would prove to be an extraordinary member of the US’ military when he won the Medal of Honor, the first black soldier to receive the medal during the Vietnam War.
Milton L. Olive III
Olive was born shortly after WWII had ended, on November 7 1946 in Chicago, Illinois. His mother died just hours after his birth, leaving his father to care for him. He was raised by his father in Chicago while often staying at his grandparents’ farm in Lexington, Mississippi. It was here that Olive attended an all-black school.
Olive was raised in the post-WWII US, which was a time of great social change with the civil rights movement. Schools and neighborhoods were still legally segregated even into the 1950s, while segregation was still effectively in place, although unenforced, into the late 1960s.
Olive was in his second year of high school in 1964 when the 24th Amendment was ratified. This removed poll taxes that made many black citizens unable to vote. This was a period of extreme turbulence in the US, with riots and violence a common occurrence in southern states. Olive’s grandmother feared this violence, so she sent Olive back to Chicago.
While here, he realized he would have to repeat his sophomore year, so he attempted to get a job instead. When this didn’t work, he joined the Army on his 18th birthday.
President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 in 1948, which formally ordered the desegregation of the US military. Prior to this major civil rights breakthrough, black and white soldiers were placed into separate units, with black units often relegated to menial, labor-intensive roles.
Unfortunately, many leaders throughout the US chain of command were in no rush to enforce this order, so most units were still segregated when the Korean War began in 1950. The Vietnam War was to be the first fully integrated war.
Olive arrived in Vietnam with the 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade. His fellow soldiers quickly took note of Olive’s quiet and reserved attitude. Rarely willing to curse, he earned the nickname “Preacher.”
On October 22, 1965, Olive’s unit was delivered by helicopter into the thick jungle near Saigon, but the men quickly came under fire. The US troops were significantly outnumbered but returned fire and forced the enemy to retreat, prompting the men to give chase. Throughout the battle, the 19-year-old Olive, now a battle-hardened soldier, positioned himself at the front of the unit.
Olive, his platoon commander, and three others were chasing down the retreating Viet Cong when they ran into an ambush.
A grenade suddenly landed amongst the men, to which Olive screamed “Look out, lieutenant, grenade.” Olive picked it up, moved away from the rest of the men, and dropped to the floor. His body absorbed the full blast of the grenade, costing him his life.
His heroic act saved the men around him. “It was the most incredible display of selfless bravery I ever witnessed,” his platoon commander later said.
For this action, Olive was posthumously awarded the nation’s highest decoration; the Medal of Honor. His citation said, “Through his bravery, unhesitating actions, and complete disregard for his safety, he prevented additional loss of life or injury to the members of his platoon.”
“Pfc. Olive’s extraordinary heroism, at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, are in the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.”
His award was presented to his father, Milton Olive, and his wife, Antoinette, by President Lyndon B. Johnson at the White House on April 21, 1966. He was the first black soldier to receive the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War.
His platoon commander, who was initially uncomfortable serving in an integrated force, had his beliefs completely changed by Olive.
“A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about him,” his platoon commander said. “Milton Olive changed me. I made a vow never to forget him.”
Van T. Barfoot was a true war hero, whose exploits saved many of his comrades’ lives and even those of the enemies he captured. He continued on in the military after WWII and eventually fought in both the Korean War and the Vietnam War, retiring at the rank of colonel. For his extraordinary acts of valor during WWII, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the United States’ highest award.
Barfoot was born as Van Thurman Barfoot on the 15th of June 1919 in Edinburg, Mississippi. He would later change his name to Van Thomas Barfoot. Raised on a farm alongside eight siblings, Barfoot’s beginnings were rather humble.
As his grandmother was Choctaw (a Native American people), he was eligible to join the nation, but his parents did not enroll him.
Barfoot’s early military career
A lifelong patriot, Barfoot enlisted into the U.S. Army in 1940, before the U.S. had even entered the war, and before conscription began. He completed his training and first served in the 1st Infantry Division. By the time the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, Barfoot had already reached the rank of sergeant.
He was moved to the Amphibious Force Atlantic Fleet in Quantico, Virginia, until 1943, when the unit was decommissioned. Barfoot was then transferred to the 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division.
Barfoot and the 45th Infantry Division were shipped to Europe in June of 1943 and began preparations for the invasion of Sicily. The division was part of the spearhead in the assault on the island, supported by the 505th Parachute Regiment. Around this time, Adolf Hitler decided to reduce activities at the Battle of Kursk in part to divert forces to reinforce Italy.
By early August, the 45th Infantry Division was withdrawn from frontline duties for rest, having fought valiantly through Sicily. In September 1943, the 45th Infantry Division was involved in Operation Avalanche, the invasion of Salerno, Italy. After Salerno, they once again fought a tough, slow, and difficult fight at Anzio.
Here, Barfoot would display immense feats of courage and bravery.
Barfoot’s Medal of Honor
After he and his comrades reached the Italian town of Carano, they set up defenses. While he was here, Barfoot had patrolled the area to assess German lines and their defenses. Soon after, he and his unit were involved in an attack against the German lines.
Barfoot, who knew the area and its defenses well thanks to his patrols, requested to lead his own squad into battle. Aware of a minefield ahead, Barfoot proceeded alone. He crawled past the minefield and up to a German machine-gun position, which he attacked with a hand grenade.
According to Barfoot’s Medal of Honor citation, he “crawled to the proximity of one machine-gun nest and made a direct hit on it with a hand grenade, killing two and wounding three Germans.”
After this he made his way to a second machine gun, which he also attacked, killing two with his Thompson submachine gun and capturing a further three. The next machine gun nest surrendered to Barfoot immediately, as well as other enemy troops nearby.
“Members of another enemy machinegun crew then abandoned their position and gave themselves up to Sgt. Barfoot. Leaving the prisoners for his support squad to pick up, he proceeded to mop up positions in the immediate area, capturing more prisoners and bringing his total count to 17.”
In these actions, he captured 17 and killed eight of his enemy.
A while later on the same day, after Barfoot had regrouped with his men, the Germans launched a counterattack aided by fearsome Tiger I tanks.
His citation said: “Securing a bazooka, Sgt. Barfoot took up an exposed position directly in front of three advancing Mark VI tanks. From a distance of 75 yards his first shot destroyed the track of the leading tank, effectively disabling it, while the other two changed direction toward the flank. As the crew of the disabled tank dismounted, Sgt. Barfoot killed three of them with his tommy gun.”
As if this weren’t enough, Barfoot then ran behind enemy lines and disabled an enemy field gun with explosives. On his way back, the exhausted Barfoot encountered two severely wounded comrades. He helped them both back to his position, which was 1,700 feet away.
For these actions, Barfoot was awarded the Medal of Honor in a ceremony held in France, with his fellow soldiers in attendance.
After fighting through the Korean War and Vietnam War, Barfoot returned home and moved to Virginia, where he would live a relatively quiet life.
He sprung into the media in 2009 when the homeowners’ association (HOA) where he lived ordered him to remove a 21-foot flagpole he used to fly the American flag from. The HOA threatened to take Barfoot to court if their order was not obeyed.
The situation went viral on news outlets and across social media, with large numbers of people outraged by the demands. After a huge amount of backlash, the HOA dropped their order, settling the dispute.
The Medal of Honor recipient died in 2012 after a fall in his home in Henrico County, Virginia. He was aged 92.
Pfc. Cedar Ross, left, exchanged a challenge coin with his great-grandfather, retired Marine Hershel ”Woody” Williams, right, the last living recipient of the Medal of Honor from World War II, after Ross graduated from Marine Corps boot camp Friday, June 18, 2021, in Parris Island, S.C. (Brent Casey)
The great-grandson of legendary U.S. Marine Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Williams has been welcomed into the Corps by his granddad. Williams was awarded the Medal of Honor for extreme heroism during the vicious Battle of Iwo Jima and is now the last living Medal of Honor recipient from WWII.
Williams’ great-grandson, Pfc. Cedar Ross, has recently graduated from the Marine Corps boot camp and has been given some useful words of advice from his decorated family member. Williams said, “The only advice I think I gave him was to do the very best that he could and then do a little more.”
The graduation ceremony is the first that family members have been able to attend since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing Williams to watch his great-grandson and 350 fresh Marines cross the parade area at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
Hershel W. Williams
Williams was once in Ross’s shoes back in 1943, when he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. He first attempted to enlist in 1942, motivated by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but he was turned down for being too short (5 foot 6). In 1943, the U.S. reduced the height limit and he successfully enlisted in the Marine Corps. He was trained in demolitions and using the flamethrower.
On February 21, 1945, Williams arrived on the beaches of Iwo Jima, an island that was host to one of the most brutal battles of the entire war.
During the battle, U.S. tanks were attempting to clear a way through the island’s defenses for the infantry, but came up against a series of Japanese bunkers unleashing deadly fire on the following troops. Williams was ordered to take his flamethrower and assist a fellow soldier armed with explosives to neutralize the Japanese bunkers. They would be covered by a group of riflemen.
All of the men with Williams were cut down by enemy fire before they could reach the bunkers. Williams remained unscathed, however, and made his way to a bunker, where he inserted his flamethrower into an opening of the bunker, killing the occupants inside.
Williams moved to another bunker and placed “the nozzle of his flamethrower through the air vent, killing the occupants, and silencing the gun,” as quoted from his Medal of Honor citation.
His citation also said that “he fought desperately for four hours under terrific enemy small-arms fire and repeatedly returned to his own lines to prepare demolition charges and obtain serviced flamethrowers, struggling back, frequently to the rear of hostile emplacements, to wipe out one position after another.”
For these actions, Williams was awarded the Medal of Honor personally by U.S. President Harry S. Truman and became a legend of the Marine Corps. The U.S. has since named a Navy vessel, a National Guard facility, and a VA Medical Center after him.
A tough legacy to beat
So, Ross certainly has big boots to fill. Until about halfway through boot camp, the drill instructors had no idea he was the great-grandson of the decorated Marine. During the tough 13-week training process the new Marines went through, Ross received a promotion to private first class.
Ross was interviewed beside Williams. “The chief drill instructor told me, ‘Ross, you’re going to have big shoes to fill,’” Ross said. “I said, ‘Yes, sir. Thankfully, I wear size 15.’”
At the ceremony, commanding officer of the 2nd Recruit Training Battalion Lt. Col. Robert M. Groceman, told the new Marines to take pride in their achievements, “but tomorrow is no longer about you,” he said. “Tomorrow is about those Marines who came before us, whose legacy you are now a part of. Tomorrow is about those Marines to your left and to your right who are depending on you.”
Thank you for your service Retired Army Ranger legend Col. Ralph Puckett.
Retired Army Ranger legend Col. Ralph Puckett has been presented the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award, by U.S. President Joe Biden. After waiting 70 years for the award, Puckett was slightly less wowed than expected by the invitation to the White House.
“I understand that your first response to us hosting this event was to ask ‘why all the fuss … can’t they just mail it to me?’” Joe Biden jokingly remarked.
Puckett’s heroism on Hill 205
As a 1st Lieutenant, Puckett showed extreme bravery in the midst of battle on November 25th, 1950, during the Korean War. On that day, he commanded his men of the 8th Army Ranger Company on Hill 205, against a major Chinese assault of hundreds of troops. Puckett and his men faced odds of 10 to 1, freezing temperatures, and limited food, ammunition and supplies.
“The intelligence briefing indicated that there were 25,000 Chinese troops in the area,” Biden explained during the ceremony. “[Puckett] believed in the fundamentals. It was how he trained his men, and how he had handpicked them, chosen from the ranks of cooks, clerks, and mechanics to [become] the first Ranger company since World War II.”
He repeatedly left his foxhole despite the danger, using himself as bait to reveal the enemy’s positions.
Meanwhile, he was directing friendly artillery fire, with some barrages even called near to himself to hold off the attack. These actions led to him being wounded three times, with a mortar injuring him so severely he couldn’t move. Realizing their position was going to be overrun, Puckett gave the order to retreat and for his men to leave him behind so they could escape, but two privates bravely ignored the order and retrieved Puckett.
At the time, Puckett was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions, which itself is the next award down from the Medal of Honor.
While he was recovering, he was offered a medical discharge, which he refused, and met his future wife Jeannie while he was in the hospital.
After Korea, Puckett continued on and fought in Vietnam, earning another Distinguished Service Cross and two Silver Stars. Over his military career, he also earned five Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars. He retired in 1971 at the rank of colonel.
In 1992, Puckett was inducted into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame. Four years later in 1996, he became the first honorary colonel for the 75th Ranger Regiment, a role he stayed in for 10 years. He passed on his vast amount of knowledge to the regiment.
Puckett receives the Medal of Honor
At the ceremony, Biden said, “I’m incredibly proud to give Col. Ralph Puckett’s acts of valor the full recognition they have always deserved.”
“This is an honor that was long overdue,” Biden added. “More than 70 years overdue.”
Puckett’s Medal of Honor presentation ceremony sets itself apart from any others previous to it, as it is the only one where a foreign world leader was present. South Korean President Moon Jae-in attended the ceremony as a show of solidarity between the two allies.
“Col. Puckett is a true hero of the Korean War,” Moon said. “Without the sacrifice of veterans including Col. Puckett, [the] freedom and democracy we enjoy today couldn’t have blossomed in Korea.”
Moon also stated that it was a true honor to attend the ceremony.
Other attendees included Puckett’s wife, children, grandchildren, and a former technical sergeant who also fought in Korea, Master Sgt. Merle Simpson.
Simpson said about serving with Puckett: “Puckett impressed me. If you made a mistake, you would do 50 pushups, and he would do 50 with you. There is no telling how many a day he did.”
Puckett entered the room in a wheelchair, standing with the assistance of two young officers on either side of him. For Biden’s citation, Puckett stood up on his own, pushing away a walker offered to him.
USA – -(AmmoLand.com)- Actions worthy of the Medal of Honor don’t always come from a compilation of courageous deeds; they can happen in the shortest window of time. That was likely the case for Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class William Halyburton Jr., a corpsman who died on his first day in combat toward the end of World War II.
Halyburton was born on Aug. 2, 1924, in Canton, North Carolina, to parents Mae and William Halyburton. He had two brothers, Bob and Joe. In 1940, the family moved to Miami, but Halyburton only stayed for a short while before moving back to North Carolina to live with his aunt and uncle in Wilmington, according to newspaper reports from the 1940s.
Halyburton played sports and was a devout Christian during his time at New Hanover High School, from which he graduated in 1943. He entered the seminary at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina; however, those plans had to be put on hold when he was drafted to serve in World War II.
According to a 2010 Asheville Citizen-Times article, Halyburton was a conscientious objector, meaning he would serve but would not bear arms. So, in August 1943, he was allowed to choose the Naval Reserve, where he joined the hospital corps and spent more than a year in training.
By January 1945, Halyburton had reached the rank of pharmacist’s mate 2nd class and was sent overseas as a medic for the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. The division had pushed its way across the Pacific and was preparing to battle for Okinawa, an island near Japan’s home shores.
On May 10, 1945 — Halyburton’s first day in combat, according to his mother — the 1st Marine Division was on the island and preparing to move across the Awacha Draw, a strategically important ravine that was heavily fortified by the Japanese. Americans dubbed it “Death Valley” since many soldiers and Marines fell as they tried to cross it.
Halyburton was serving with a rifle company that day, and he watched a lot of Marines fall. They weren’t able to be carried away to safety, so the wounded were treated where they fell or would have to be retrieved later.
Enemy fire on his unit was intense, but, as they crossed the draw, the young medic didn’t hesitate. He ran across the ravine, up a hill, and into a fire-swept field where his company’s advance squad was pinned down. Despite a nonstop barrage of mortar, machine gun, and sniper fire, Halyburton ran until he reached the furthest wounded Marine.
As he started to give that Marine aid, the wounded man was struck a second time by a Japanese bullet. Halyburton quickly put his own body between the wounded man and the line of fire, continuing to give aid until he was also gravely wounded. The 20-year-old collapsed and died while trying to save his comrade.
Halyburton’s outstanding devotion to duty amid such a terrifying situation led to his immediate nomination for the Medal of Honor. On May 8, 1946 — nearly a full year after he died — Halyburton’s family was presented the nation’s highest honor for valor on his behalf. During a ceremony at Bayfront Park in Miami, Navy Rear Adm. John F. Shafroth Jr. bestowed the medal to Halyburton’s brothers, who had also served in the Navy during the war. Halyburton was buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.
While he only spent one day in combat, his legacy has lived on. In 1984, the guided-missile frigate USS Halyburton was commissioned in his honor. Several other military structures were also named for him, including Halyburton Naval Health Clinic in Cherry Point, North Carolina; a barracks at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida; and a road at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
This article is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.
The U.S. has lost its oldest Medal of Honor recipient. Charles Coolidge has passed away at the age of 99. He died April 6, 2021, at the Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Out of 473 Medal of Honor recipients who received the award for actions during World War II, there is now only one still living, Marine Cpl. Hershel “Woody” Williams, who was presented his award for his actions at Iwo Jima.
Coolidge was born in Tennessee in 1921. He worked as a bookbinder at the business his father started, Chattanooga Printing & Engraving.
When the war started, Coolidge joined the Army. He trained in Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina before deploying for the European front in the spring of 1943.
He was in the first American division to invade Europe in the war. He was part of the failed attempt to cross the Rapido River and fought in the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944.
In May of 1944, he was part of the division that opened up Rome for the 5th Army to invade. He received the Silver Star for his actions in that battle.
Heroism in France
His division was then pulled from Italy and sent to Southern France where they advanced on the Siegfried Line — the German defensive line guarded by thousands of bunkers and pillboxes.
During a four-day battle near the French village of Belmont-sur-Buttant, he performed the actions that won him the Medal of Honor.
Coolidge was leading a section of heavy machine guns with support from a platoon from Company K. They were moving to cover the right flank in support of the 3rd Battalion.
In the woods, Coolidge and a sergeant were scouting positions when they stumbled on a large force of enemy infantry, possibly an entire company.
Coolidge tried to bluff in spite of the vast numbers in favor of the Germans. He called for them to surrender. They countered his offer by opening fire.
Since there was no officer present, Coolidge assumed command and led his troops to direct their fire at the enemy. Many of the soldiers in his group were experiencing enemy fire for the first time, but Coolidge moved up and down the line to offer encouragement, calm the men’s nerves, and direct their fire.
They managed to repel that first attack, but the German’s returned the next day. They continued wave after wave of attacks, but the Americans kept holding them at bay.
On the fourth day, the Germans attacked with support from two tanks. Coolidge calmly took a bazooka and moved to within 25 yards of the tanks. Unfortunately for Coolidge, the bazooka failed to fire.
So Coolidge rounded up all the hand grenades he could and crawled forward throwing one after another and inflicting heavy casualties on the Germans.
When it was clear that the Americans could not hold out against the superior numbers and firepower of the Germans, Coolidge called for an orderly withdrawal. Coolidge himself did not leave the position until he was certain all his men had withdrawn.
Later life and awards
When the war ended, Coolidge went home, married, and started a family. He worked for the Veterans Administration for a while after the war and then returned to his family’s business where he worked until he retired at the age of 95.
In addition to the Medal of Honor, Coolidge received the Bronze Star and the Silver Star. In 2006, France awarded him their Legion of Honor, their highest honor. The Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center in Chattanooga was named after him. A highway and a park have also been named after him.
He was one of 12 Medal of Honor recipients to appear on the cover of the U.S. Postal Service’s Medal of Honor stamp sheet. In March 2021, he received the 2021 George Marshall Award by the State Funeral for World War II Veterans.
There is no doubt that Captain Bill ‘Hawk’ Albracht deserves the Medal of Honor.
Captain Bill ‘Hawk’ Albracht saved more than 150 allied soldiers in daring escape
In October 1969, Army Captain Bill “Hawk” Albracht found himself posted at a base in Vietnamese jungle widely considered to be a backwater to the war. Surrounded by thousands of North Vietnamese soldiers, strapped for ammo and water, and with no hope of rescue, Albracht and his team of more than 150 American and South Vietnamese soldiers stared down communist forces armed to the teeth—with a slim chance of survival.
“My heart sunk,” Albracht said recalling a message from command saying there would be no reinforcements. “I knew right then: We’ve got to get out of here, and we have to do it ourselves.”
After multiple days of brutal firefights with North Vietnamese soldiers, Albracht led an exhausted gang of American artillery troops and pro-American Vietnamese tribesmen to safety in the dead of night. In the process, the U.S. Army crew lost only one man in battle and only one more missing in action. Twenty-four Americans under Albracht’s command would live to fight another day.
The heroic actions of that week led to multiple commendations for Albracht, a Silver Star and Purple Heart not least among them. Now his peers and friends want their captain to receive the highest honor.
First Lieutenant John Kerr, who also served at Firebase Kate, told the Washington Free Beacon that Albracht’s heroism merits every honor in the book.
“Bill deserves all the credit and the upgrade of his medals that are possible. He was responsible for saving 24 American lives, that’s all there is to it,” Kerr said. “He took charge and put himself in harm’s way time and time again.”
Special forces soldier Bill Albracht with a South Vietnamese soldier (Credit: pritzkermilitary.org)
It was by no means clear that Albracht and his fellow Americans would come out of Firebase Kate unscathed. Many of the captain’s peers had only been stationed at the base—which was poorly defended and in a location vulnerable to attack—for about a month. Though Albracht was trained as a special forces officer, his comrades belonged to an artillery grouping, meaning they had little experience in the direct line of fire. Albracht himself was only 21 years old at the time, and on his first command assignment. To make matters worse, by the time the North Vietnamese attacked, the base’s artillery equipment was all but out of commission.
The policy of Vietnamization also complicated the safety of those at Firebase Kate. Adopted by President Richard Nixon in the waning days of the Vietnam War, Vietnamization meant the anti-communist South Vietnamese would take the primary role in fighting and American troops would return to a support role. The policy halted American commanders from sending supporting troops to the firebase. So did antiaircraft weapons from North Vietnamese forces.
“The bottom line was that we were stuck there on this little hilltop along the Cambodian border, and there was no way out,” Kerr said. “We were just sitting ducks.”
It was in this desperate hour that Albracht took charge. Even after suffering a wound and receiving heavy fire from the North Vietnamese, the captain rallied his troops for an exit strategy. After coordinating via radio with air support and commanding officers, Albracht decided his band of survivors would make their escape under cover of nightfall. In a single-file line, he and the Vietnamese tribesmen trekked miles to rendezvous with the “MIKE Force,” American special operators tasked with retrieving the men posted at Firebase Kate. As Albracht and his crew inched closer to freedom, they at one point only stood 12 feet away from a patrol of North Vietnamese troops.
“I called the MIKE Force on the radio to say, ‘I hear you coming; I’m on your immediate left,'” Albracht said. “They told me they weren’t out; it was the enemy. If the [enemy] made any degree of movement to the left, they would have come right up on us, and we would have been in a pitched battle we would have very much lost. But they moved right on by.”
In the aftermath of the escape, Firebase Kate was destroyed. After retrieval by U.S. forces, Albracht did not return home. Instead he re-upped and joined the same corps that found him and his soldiers—the MIKE Force. Albracht was wounded again months later, which eventually marked the end of his frontline service in Vietnam.
Firebase Kate in the aftermath of the escape (Credit: gifilmfestivalsd.org)
Besides Kerr, several other veterans and advocates champion Albracht’s bid for a Medal of Honor. The written testimony of two other officers—Col. John Beckenhauer and Lt. Gen. Michael Tucker—praises Albracht for his extraordinary heroism in orchestrating the escape from Firebase Kate. The Vietnam Veterans of America also drafted a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin recommending Albracht for the nation’s highest award for servicemen.
“Never have I witnessed a more heroic feat than what he pulled off getting those men off that firebase that night alive,” Beckenhauer, a member of the Army aviation team supporting Albracht’s mission, wrote in his testimony.
“The fact that any of them got off that base, walked through enemy lines in the pitch black dark, and got out to safety with all but one, was nothing short of miraculous. What a testament to the American soldier and to Hawk’s leadership. A braver man doing anything that crazy and living to tell about it would be hard to find…. One day I hope to meet him under better circumstances.”
Albracht receiving a plaque for his heroics at Firebase Kate (Credit: army.mil)
Albracht served his country in a different way after Vietnam. Over the course of five presidencies, the Vietnam veteran served as a Secret Service agent, protecting U.S. presidents and foreign dignitaries. He said his experience as a special operator in Vietnam prepared him for the challenge of such a high-stakes position.
The Vietnam veteran later coauthored a book about his experience at Firebase Kate, which was also adapted into a documentary—efforts Albracht said are meant to honor the sacrifice of his comrades in arms. For Albracht, the ultimate lesson of his experience was the team effort and sacrifice it took to return himself and 24 other Americans home safely.
“I needed to be at Kate, and therefore by divine providence, or whatever you want to call it, I performed correctly and I did my job to the best of my ability,” Albracht said. “And we got out. It wasn’t just me; everybody did their job.”
The Army declined to comment on Albracht’s appeal for a Medal of Honor.
R.I.P. Sgt Alwyn Cashe, A true hero in every sense of the word.
President Donald Trump has signed a bipartisan bill which clears the way for US Army Sgt Alwyn Cashe to posthumously receive the nation’s highest military honor.
Cashe had previously been awarded the Silver Star for Valor. Many US veterans believed that Cashe’s actions deserved the Medal of Honor since they occurred after being attacked in Iraq. This qualified the incident as active combat and made it eligible for the Medal of Honor.
The story gained popularity when NFL player and former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva wore Cashe’s name on the back of his helmet during the first game of the season this year. An estimated 10.8 million viewers saw that game and learned about Cashe’s actions.
US Representatives Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla), Michael Waltz (R-Fla) and Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex) introduced the bill authorizing the Medal of Honor for Cashe just two days after that game. The bill unanimously passed the Senate last month and was given to the president for his signature last week.
With the president’s signature now on the bill, the Department of Defense is now cleared to formally recommend that the president award the Medal of Honor to Cashe. The president is the only one authorized to present the award.
In 2005, Cashe rescued several men from a burning vehicle in Iraq after it had been attacked by an explosive device. Cashe repeatedly entered the burning vehicle to pull his men to safety despite receiving second and third degree burns over three-quarters of his body.
According to Leo Shane III, witnesses described Alwyn Cashe returning time and time again to the burning vehicle even his own uniform was burning and his body armor was melting from the heat.
Villanueva said that his decision to honor Cashe was a personal one because of the effort among veterans to get Cashe the Medal of Honor. He said that the team’s head coach, Mike Tomlin, had approved of his decision.
But the decision caused some controversy. When the NFL announced that players would be allowed to wear the name of someone who was the victim of police brutality or a phrase that was associated with the protest movement regarding such brutality the Pittsburgh Steelers team web site published a story that the entire team would be wearing the name of Antwon Rose, Jr. Villanueva was the only player wearing a different name on his helmet.
Rose was killed by a Pittsburgh police officer while running away on foot. He had been in a vehicle that was involved in a drive-by shooting just minutes before he was killed. Many saw the incident as another example of police officers using excessive force against a black man. The officer who killed Rose, Michael Rosfield, shot Rose three times in the back. Rosfield was cleared of wrongdoing by a jury.
Rose’s mother was initially critical of Villanueva’s decision to wear a different name. She has since deleted the social media post in which she criticized the Steeler player for not wearing her son’s name on his helmet as the rest of his team was doing.
Villanueva is the starting left tackle for the Steelers. He is in his sixth season in the NFL.
He was 35 years old when he died after his heroic actions.