Monday, July 18, 2016

Remarks by the President at Presentation to Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Charles Kettles, U.S. Army


The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                                                                                                       July 18, 2016

                                                Watch Replay of Presentation Ceremony

East Room

11:14 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  Please have a seat.  Welcome to the White House.  Of all the privileges of this office, none is greater than serving as the Commander-in-Chief of the finest military that the world has ever known.  And of all the military decorations that our nation can bestow, we have none higher than the Medal of Honor.

As many who know him have said, nobody deserves it more than Charles Kettles of Ypsilanti, Michigan.  Many believe that –- except for Chuck.  (Laughter.)  As he says, this “seems like a hell of a fuss over something that happened 50 years ago.”  (Laughter.)

Even now, all these years later, Chuck is still defined by the humility that shaped him as a soldier.  At 86 years old, he still looks sharp as a tack in that uniform.  I pointed out he obviously has not gained any weight.  (Laughter.)  And his life is as American as they come.  He’s the son of an immigrant.  His father signed up to fly for the United States the day after Pearl Harbor and filled his five boys with a deep sense of duty to their country.  For a time, he even served in the Army Reserve -- for a time, even as he served in the Army Reserve, Chuck ran a Ford dealership with his brother.  And to families who drove a new car off that lot, he’s the salesman who helped put an American icon in their driveway.

To the aviation students at Eastern Michigan University, Chuck is the professor who taught them about the wonder of flight in the country that invented it.  To the constituents he served as a rare Republican in his hometown’s mostly Democratic city council, Chuck is the public servant who made sure that their voices were heard.  And to Ann, his beautiful bride, who grew up literally as the girl next door, Chuck is a devoted husband.  Next March they will celebrate their 40th anniversary.  So happy early anniversary.  (Applause.)  

So in a lot of ways, Chuck Kettles is America.  And to the dozens of American soldiers that he saved in Vietnam half a century ago, Chuck is the reason they lived and came home and had children and grandchildren –- entire family trees made possible by the actions of this one man.

We are honored to be joined not only by Ann, but also eight of Chuck and Ann’s 10 children, and three of their grandchildren.  It’s the Kettles family reunion here in the White House.  (Laughter.)  We’re also honored to be joined by Chuck’s brothers-in-arms from Vietnam and some of Chuck’s newest comrades, members of the Medal of Honor Society.

May 15, 1967, started as a hot Monday morning.  Soldiers from the 101st Airborne were battling hundreds of heavily armed North Vietnamese in a rural riverbed.  Our men were outnumbered.  They needed support fast –- helicopters to get the wounded out and bring more soldiers into the fight.  Chuck Kettles was a helo pilot.  And just as he’d volunteered for active duty, on this morning he volunteered his Hueys –- even though he knew the danger.  They called this place “Chump Valley” for a reason:  Above the riverbed rose a 1,500-foot-tall hill, and the enemy was dug into an extensive series of tunnels and bunkers -- the ideal spot for an ambush.

But Chuck jumped into the cockpit and took off.  Around 9 a.m., his company of Hueys approached the landing zone and looked down.  They should have seen a stand of green trees; instead, they saw a solid wall of green enemy tracers coming right at them.  None of them had ever seen fire that intense.  Soldiers in the helos were hit and killed before they could even leap off.  But under withering fire, Chuck landed his chopper and kept it there, exposed, so the wounded could get on and so that he could fly them back to base.

A second time, Chuck went back into the valley.  He dropped off more soldiers and supplies, picked up more wounded.  Once more, machine-gun bullets and mortar rounds came screaming after them.  As he took off a second time, rounds pierced the arm and leg of Chuck’s door gunner, Roland Scheck.  Chuck’s Huey was hit.  Fuel was pouring out as he flew away.  But Chuck had wounded men aboard and decided to take his chances.  He landed, found another helicopter, and flew Roland to the field hospital.

By now it was near evening.  Back in the riverbed, 44 American soldiers were still pinned down.  The air was thick with gunpowder; it smelled of burning metal.  And then they heard a faint sound, and as the sun started to set, they saw something rise over the horizon:  six American helicopters -- as one of them said, “as beautiful as could be.”  For a third time, Chuck and his unit headed into that hell on Earth.  Death or injury was all but certain, a fellow pilot said later, and “a lesser person would not return.”  Once again, the enemy unloaded everything they had on Chuck as he landed –- small arms, automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades.

Soldiers ran to the helicopters.  When Chuck was told all were accounted for, he took off.  And then, midair, his radio told him something else:  eight men had not made it aboard.  They had been providing cover for the others.  Those eight soldiers had run for the choppers, but could only watch as they floated away.  “We all figured we were done for,” they said.  Chuck came to the same conclusion.  “If we left them for 10 minutes,” he said, “they’d be POWs or dead.”

A soldier who was there said “that day, Major Kettles became our John Wayne.”  With all due respect to John Wayne, he couldn’t do what Chuck Kettles did.  He broke off from formation, took a steep, sharp, descending turn back toward the valley -– this time with no aerial or artillery support -- a lone helicopter heading back in.  Chuck’s Huey was the only target for the enemy to attack –- and they did.  Tracers lit up the sky once more.  Chuck became -- Chuck came in so hot that his chopper bounced for several hundred feet before coming to a stop.  As soon as he landed, a mortar round shattered his windshield.  Another hit the main rotor blade.  Shrapnel tore through the cockpit and Chuck’s chair.  And still, those eight soldiers started to sprint to the Huey, running through the firestorm, chased by bullets.

Chuck’s helo, now badly damaged, was carrying 13 souls and was 600 pounds over limit.  It felt, he said, like flying a two-and-a-half-ton truck.  (Laughter.)  He couldn’t hover long enough to take off.  But cool customer that he is, he says he saw his shattered windshield and thought, “that’s pretty good air conditioning.”  (Laughter.)  The cabin filled with black smoke as Chuck hopped and skipped the helo across the ground to pick up enough speed for takeoff –- like a jackrabbit, he said, bouncing across the riverbed.

The instant he got airborne, another mortar ripped into the tail, the Huey fishtailed violently, and a soldier was thrown out of the helicopter, hanging onto a skid as Chuck flew them to safety.  I couldn't make this up.  (Laughter.)  This is like a bad "Rambo" movie.  (Laughter.)  Right?  You're listening to this, you can't believe it.

So the Army’s warrior ethos is based on a simple principle: A soldier never leaves his comrades behind.  Chuck Kettles honored that creed –- not with a single act of heroism, but over and over and over.  And because of that heroism, 44 American soldiers made it out that day -- 44.  We are honored today to be joined by some of them:  Chuck’s door gunner who was hit, Roland Scheck; the last soldier Chuck rescued that day, the one who figured he was done for, Dewey Smith; and a number of soldiers, our Vietnam veterans, who fought in that battle.  Gentlemen, I would ask you to either stand if you can, or wave, so that we can thank you for your service.  (Applause.)

Now, Chuck’s heroism was recognized at the time by the Army’s second-highest award for gallantry -– the Distinguished Service Cross.  But Bill Vollano decided Chuck deserved an upgrade.  Bill is a retired social worker who went to Chuck’s house to interview him for a veterans history project sponsored by the local Rotary Club.  Ann overheard the interview from the other room and reminded Chuck to tell Bill the story I’ve just told all of you.  This is something Chuck and I have in common -– we do what our wives tell us to do.  (Laughter.)  Chuck told the story, and with his trademark humility, finished it by saying it was “a piece of cake.”  (Laughter.)

Bill, hearing the story, knew it was something more, and he started a five-year mission, along with Chuck’s son Mike, a retired Navy pilot, to award Chuck the Medal of Honor.  Bill and Mike are here, as is Congresswoman Debbie Dingell who, along with her legendary husband, John Dingell, went above and beyond to pass a law to make sure that even all these years later, we could fully recognize Chuck Kettles’ heroism, as we do today.  So we thank them for their outstanding efforts.

And that’s one more reason this story is quintessentially American:  Looking out for one another; the belief that nobody should be left behind.  This shouldn't just be a creed for our soldiers –- it should be a creed for all of us.  This is a country that's never finished in its mission to improve, to do better, to learn from our history, to work to form a more perfect union.  And at a time when, let's face it, we've had a couple of tough weeks, for us to remember the goodness and decency of the American people, and the way that we can all look out for each other, even when times are tough, even when the odds are against us -- what a wonderful inspiration.  What a great gift for us to be able to celebrate something like this.

It might take time, but having failed to give our veterans who fought in Vietnam the full measure of thanks and respect that they had earned, we acknowledged that our failure to do so was a shame.  We resolve that it will never happen again.  It can take time, but old adversaries can find peace.  Thanks to the leadership of so many Vietnam vets who had the courage to rebuild ties, I was able to go to Vietnam recently and see a people as enthusiastic about America as probably any place in the world -– crowds lining the streets.  And we were able to say that, on a whole lot of issues, Vietnam and the United States are now partners.  Here at home, it might take time, but we have to remember everyone on our team –- just like Chuck Kettles.  Sometimes we have to turn around, and head back, and help those who need a lift.

Chuck says the most gratifying part of this whole story is that Dewey’s name, and Roland’s name, and the names of the 42 other Americans he saved are not etched in the solemn, granite wall not far from here that memorializes the fallen in the Vietnam War.  Instead, it will be Chuck Kettles’ name forever etched on the walls that communities have built from Southern California to South Carolina in honor of those who have earned the Medal of Honor.

Of course, Chuck says all this attention is “a lot of hubbub, but I’ll survive.”  (Laughter.)  Chuck, you’ve survived much worse than this ceremony.  (Laughter.)  And on behalf of the American people, let me say that this hubbub is richly and roundly deserved.  As the military aide prepares to read the citation, please join me in saluting this proud American soldier and veteran who reminds us all of the true meaning of service –- Lieutenant Colonel Chuck Kettles.  (Applause.)

MILITARY AIDE:  The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3rd, 1863, has awarded, in the name of Congress, the Medal of Honor to Major Charles S. Kettles, United States Army.  Major Charles S. Kettles distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while serving as flight commander, 176th Aviation Company, (Airmobile) (Light), 14th Combat Aviation Battalion, Americal Division near Duc Pho, Republic of Vietnam.

On 15 May, 1967, Major Kettles, upon learning that an airborne infantry unit had suffered casualties during an intense firefight with the enemy, immediately volunteered to lead a flight of six UH-1 Delta helicopters to carry reinforcements to the embattled force and to evacuate wounded personnel.  Enemy small arms, automatic weapons, and mortar fire raked the landing zone, inflicting heavy damage to the helicopters.  However, Major Kettles refused to depart until all helicopters were loaded to capacity.

He then returned to the battlefield with full knowledge of the intense enemy fire awaiting his arrival, to bring more reinforcements, landing in the midst of enemy mortar and automatic weapons fire that seriously wounded his gunner and severely damaged his aircraft.  Upon departing, Major Kettles was advised by another helicopter crew that he had fuel streaming out of his aircraft.  Despite the risk posed by the leaking fuel, he nursed the damaged aircraft back to base.

Later that day, the Infantry Battalion Commander requested immediate emergency extraction of the remaining 40 troops, including four members of Major Kettles' unit who were stranded when their helicopter was destroyed by enemy fire.  With only one flyable UH-1 helicopter remaining, Major Kettles volunteered to return to the deadly landing zone for a third time, leading a flight of six evacuation helicopters, five of which were from the 161st Aviation Company.

During the extraction, Major Kettles was informed by the last helicopter that all personnel were onboard, and departed the landing zone accordingly.  Army gunships, supporting the evacuation, also departed the areas.  Once airborne, Major Kettles was advised that eight troops has been unable to reach the evacuation helicopters due to the intense enemy fire.  With complete disregard for his own safety, Major Kettles passed the lead to another helicopter and returned to the landing zone to rescue the remaining troops.  Without gunship, artillery, or tactical air support, the enemy concentrated all firepower on his lone aircraft, which was immediately damaged by a mortar round that shattered both front windshields and the chin bubble, and was further raked by small arms and machine gun fire.

Despite the intense enemy fire, Major Kettles maintained control of the aircraft and situation, allowing for the remaining eight soldiers to board the aircraft.  In spite of the severe damage to his helicopter, Major Kettles once more skillfully guided his heavily damaged aircraft to safety.  Without his courageous actions and the superior flying skills, the last group of soldier and his crew would never have made it off the battle field.

Major Kettles' selfless act of repeated valor and determination are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Army.

(The Medal of Honor is presented.)

(A prayer is given.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes the ceremony.  But we have a reception.  I hear the food here is pretty good.  (Laughter.)  Let's give one more round of applause to Mr. Chuck Kettles.  (Applause.)

                                                                                 Watch Replay of Presentation Ceremony
END
11:31 A.M. EDT

Saturday, July 16, 2016

REMINDER: White House MOH Presentation Ceremony: this Monday, July 18th.

White House MOH Presentation Ceremony will be this Monday, July 18th. (11:00 am EDT). President Barack Obama will present the Medal of Honor to Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Charles Kettles, U.S. Army.

Please use link below on Monday morning for final Schedule and to view Ceremony LIVE from the White House.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Alabama Medal of Honor recipient and patriots remembered fondly

Ola Lee Mize Patriots Park in Gadsden (Bernard Troncale/Alabama NewsCenter)


View More Pictures of Gadsden's Patriots Park Memorial

Medal of Honor Citation, Ola Lee Mize

Ola Lee Mize
Medal of Honor​
June 10-11,1953
M/Sgt. Mize, a member of Company K, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and outstanding courage above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy. Company K was committed to the defense of "Outpost Harry", a strategically valuable position, when the enemy launched a heavy attack. Learning that a comrade on a friendly listening post had been wounded he moved through the intense barrage, accompanied by a medical aid man, and rescued the wounded soldier. On returning to the main position he established an effective defense system and inflicted heavy casualties against attacks from determined enemy assault forces which had penetrated into trenches within the outpost area. During his fearless actions he was blown down by artillery and grenade blasts 3 times but each time he dauntlessly returned to his position, tenaciously fighting and successfully repelling hostile attacks. When enemy onslaughts ceased he took his few men and moved from bunker to bunker, firing through apertures and throwing grenades at the foe, neutralizing their positions. When an enemy soldier stepped out behind a comrade, prepared to fire, M/Sgt. Mize killed him, saving the life of his fellow soldier. After rejoining the platoon, moving from man to man, distributing ammunition, and shouting words of encouragement he observed a friendly machine gun position overrun. He immediately fought his way to the position, killing 10 of the enemy and dispersing the remainder. Fighting back to the command post, and finding several friendly wounded there, he took a position to protect them. Later, securing a radio, he directed friendly artillery fire upon the attacking enemy's routes of approach. At dawn he helped regroup for a counterattack which successfully drove the enemy from the outpost. M/Sgt. Mize's valorous conduct and unflinching courage reflect lasting glory upon himself and uphold the noble traditions of the military service.


Editor's note: The City of Birmingham Alabama has recently designed and erected one of the finest memorials to a recipient of the Medal of Honor. We are still hopeful that the City of Stamford, CT will place the statue of  Medal of Honor recipient  Homer L. Wise in a place of honor in the renovated Veterans Park.

Ola Lee Mize Photo Courtesy of Home of Heroes.com 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

​Medal of Honor Recipient and POW Veteran Recognized For Heroism During Korean War​

​By Kalyn McMackin   July 4, 2016​

Corporal Hiroshi Miyamura
Medal of Honor
April 24-25, 1951
PUEBLO, Colo. — In honor of Independence Day, an American hero and Medal of Honor recipient was recognized for his efforts in the Korean War.

At just 18-years-old, Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura was assigned to the Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Following the end of World War II, Miyamura would later be assigned to duty fighting on the front lines of the Korean War.

On the night of April 24 1951, Corporal Miyamura and his company were attacked by the enemy who threatened to overrun their position.

“In war time you don’t have time to think about what you’re going to do,” said Miyamura. “You have to react.”

Miyamura, a machine gun squad leader, was aware of the imminent danger to his men so without hesitation he jumped from shelter and in close hand-to-hand combat killed 10 enemy soldiers.

“[It was] A responsibility I was never prepared for but I felt that since I am in command of these men, I have to be sure that I can give the right orders and make the right decision,” said Miyamura.

He killed more than 50 enemy soldiers that night protecting his men at all costs. As his position was overrun, he was severely wounded and before he knew it he became a prisoner of war (POW).

“That is something I never thought I would become but circumstances had it that I was captured when I was passed out and had no control over whether I was a prisoner or not,” he said.

Miyamura carried fellow comrade Joel Anello miles to safety before they were both captured and taken hostage.

“We said our goodbyes and I thanked him for everything he did,” said Anello. “I think at that point I was only 18-years-old and probably would not have seen my 19th birthday if it was not for Hershey.”

At the POW camp, Miyamura and his men received no food or medical attention for weeks and in the process lost dozens of their comrades. Twenty-eight long and enduring months later, Miyamura was released.

“I’ve always appreciated the American flag,” said Miyamura. “To me that was the most beautiful sight when we crossed over from the North Korea side to the American side and to see that flag fluttering in the breeze — that made us feel like we were back home again.”

Upon his return, Miyamura quickly learned he had been awarded the military’s highest honor.

“I remember all I could say was ‘what’ because I felt all I was doing was my duty,” he said.

In 1953, he was presented the Medal of Honor by President Dwight Eisenhower and now at 90-years-old, Miyamura is still in awe.

“I still have to pinch myself every now and then to make sure I’m not dreaming,” he said.

Miyamura says his focus now is educating the next generation and ensuring the same values and goals when it comes to preserving the American way of life.


Medal of Honor ​Citation​

Cpl. Miyamura, a member of Company H, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy. On the night of 24 April, Company H was occupying a defensive position when the enemy fanatically attacked threatening to overrun the position. Cpl. Miyamura, a machine gun squad leader, aware of the imminent danger to his men unhesitatingly jumped from his shelter wielding his bayonet in close hand-to-hand combat killing approximately 10 of the enemy. Returning to his position, he administered first aid to the wounded and directed their evacuation. As another savage assault hit the line, he manned his machine gun and delivered withering fire until his ammunition was expended. He ordered the squad to withdraw while he stayed behind to render the gun inoperative. He then bayoneted his way through infiltrated enemy soldiers to a second gun emplacement and assisted in its operation. When the intensity of the attack necessitated the withdrawal of the company Cpl. Miyamura ordered his men to fall back while he remained to cover their movement. He killed more than 50 of the enemy before his ammunition was depleted and he was severely wounded. He maintained his magnificent stand despite his painful wounds, continuing to repel the attack until his position was overrun. When last seen he was fighting ferociously against an overwhelming number of enemy soldiers. Cpl. Miyamura's indomitable heroism and consummate devotion to duty reflect the utmost glory on himself and uphold the illustrious traditions on the military service.

© Copyright 2016 Congressional Medal of Honor Society


Reprinted with permission of Fox 21, A Media General/LIN Television Company

Sunday, June 26, 2016

President Obama to Award the Medal of Honor, Monday, July 18, 2016

Helicopter Pilot in Vietnam War to be Honored

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release June 21, 2016


WASHINGTON, DC – On Monday, July 18, 2016, President Barack Obama will award Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Charles Kettles, U.S. Army, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry. 

Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Kettles will receive the Medal of Honor for his actions while serving as a Flight Commander assigned to 176th Aviation Company (Airmobile) (Light), 14th Combat Aviation Battalion, Americal Division. Then-Major Kettles distinguished himself in combat operations near Duc Pho, Republic of Vietnam, on May 15, 1967.  He led a platoon of UH-1Ds to provide support to the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, during an ambush by a battalion-sized enemy force.  After leading several trips to the hot landing zone and evacuating the wounded, he returned, without additional aerial support, to rescue a squad-sized element of stranded soldiers pinned down by enemy fire.  He is credited with saving the lives of 40 soldiers and four of his own crew members.

PERSONAL BACKGROUND:

U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Charles S. Kettles was born in Ypsilanti, Michigan, Jan. 9, 1930.  Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Kettles was drafted to the Army at age 21 while enrolled in Michigan State Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University) where he studied engineering. Upon completion of basic training at Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky, Kettles attended Officer Candidate School at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and earned his commission as an armor officer in the U.S. Army Reserve, Feb. 28, 1953. Kettles graduated from the Army Aviation School in 1954, before serving active duty tours in Korea, Japan and Thailand. 

After leaving active duty, Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Kettles established a Ford Dealership in Dewitt, Michigan, and continued his service with the Army Reserve as a member of the 4th Battalion, 20th Field Artillery.  Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Kettles volunteered for active duty in 1963. He attended Helicopter Transition Training at Fort Wolters, Texas in 1964. During a tour in France the following year, Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Kettles was cross-trained to fly the famed UH-1D “Huey.”  In 1966 he was assigned as a flight commander with the 176th Assault Helicopter Company, 14th Combat Aviation Battalion, and deployed to Vietnam from February through November 1967. His second tour of duty in Vietnam lasted from October 1969, through October 1970.  In 1970, Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Kettles went to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where he served as an aviation team chief and readiness coordinator supporting the Army Reserve. He remained in San Antonio until his retirement from the Army in 1978.

Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Kettles completed his bachelor’s degree at Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio, Texas, and earned his master’s degree at Eastern Michigan University, College of Technology, in commercial construction.  He went on to develop the Aviation Management Program at the College of Technology and taught both disciplines.  He later worked for Chrysler Pentastar Aviation until his retirement in 1993. Kettles currently resides in Ypsilanti, Michigan, with his wife Ann. 

Kettles’ awards and decorations include the Distinguished Service Cross, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star Medal with one bronze oak leaf cluster, Air Medal with Numeral “27,” the Army Commendation Medal with one bronze oak leaf cluster, the National Defense Service Medal with one bronze service star, the Korean Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with one silver service star and one bronze service star, the Korea Defense Service Medal, the Armed Forces Reserve Medal with bronze hourglass device, the Master Aviator Badge, Marksman Badge with carbine bar, the Valorous Unit Citation, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with bronze star, the United Nations Service Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with “60” Device, and the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with palm device. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

D-Day’s Forgotten African-American Heroes


One million black soldiers served America during World War II. Not one of them received the Medal of Honor.

The sky was thick with smoke and haze on the morning of June 6, 1944, when an explosion rocked a boat packed tight with American troops within sight of Omaha Beach.

Wedged among the five dozen men was a 21-year-old pre-med student from West Philadelphia named Waverly Bernard Woodson, Jr. He was one of five medics assigned to the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, the only African-American combat to participate in the Normandy landings. The U.S. Army was segregated during World War II, meaning the 320th was all black except for the top officers, who were white.

Moments before a shell hit Woodson’s landing craft, a mine had knocked out the engine. The second blast felled troops like matchsticks. Shrapnel killed the man beside Woodson, whose own extremities burned. He reached down and brought up a hand covered in blood. “I am dying,” he thought. A fellow medic slapped dressings on his buttocks and thigh as the helpless craft drifted to a stop.

For the next 30 hours, Woodson worked through his pain to save lives. An Army news release credits him with treating 200 men. Other accounts put that figure higher. He pulled the drowning to safety. He patched wounds, pulled out bullets and dispensed blood plasma. He amputated a right foot. When he thought he could do no more, he resuscitated four drowning men. Then he collapsed.
Woodson was nominated for the Medal of Honor, the nation’s ultimate symbol of heroism. He never got it. Instead, the medic was given the Bronze Star, the fourth-highest award for bravery. It would be another half century until an African American received the Medal of Honor for his service during World War II.

There was another soldier whose heroics on D-Day were strikingly similar to Woodson’s. Private Carlton William Barrett landed on Omaha Beach with the First Infantry Division under intense fire. He plunged into the surf and repeatedly dragged drowning men to safety. For his service, Barrett was awarded the Medal of Honor in October 1944. “He arose as a leader in the stress of the occasion,” his citation reads.

To rate the top honor, a soldier must distinguish himself “conspicuously in actual conflict with the enemy.” Private Barrett was not a medic. He was assigned to an intelligence and reconnaissance platoon. It was not his job to save the dying. Perhaps the Army commanders who considered Woodson for the Medal of Honor decided that the medic, though wounded, was merely doing his job on June 6, 1944.

Or maybe there was another reason.

An independent panel of researchers commissioned by the Army in 1993 to investigate why none of the more than 1 million African Americans who served in World War II received the Medal of Honor found no records to indicate that any had been nominated for the high award. They concluded that failure to acknowledge soldiers of color “most definitely lay in the racial climate and practice within the Army.”
Their findings prompted President Bill Clinton in January 1997 to present the Medal of Honor to seven black men who served in World War II. Only one of them was still living to shake the President’s hand. “History has been made whole today,” President Clinton said.
Not exactly. The researchers said they couldn’t recommend other soldiers of color whose service records were missing. Among them was Waverly Woodson. Comparatively few Army records from World War II still exist—as government archivists like to tell frustrated researchers—and the majority of records housed at the Army’s Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, were destroyed in a 1973 fire.

Yet during the five years I researched the stories of Waverly Woodson and other men from his battalion, I found an intriguing document revealing that the young man from Philly was nominated for the Medal of Honor.

An unsigned note addressed to “Jonathan” says that Woodson’s commanding officer had recommended him for the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest decoration. But the writer adds that the office of U.S. Gen John C.H. Lee in Britain believed Woodson deserved better—the Medal of Honor—and the recommendation was changed to reflect the higher award. The next part of the note betrays the toxic racial climate that existed for African Americans serving in the U.S. Army.

“Here is a Negro from Philadelphia who has been recommended for a suitable award. This is a big enough award that the President can give it personally, as he has in the case of some white boys.”
The note was almost certainly written by Philleo Nash, an official in the Office of War Information, who maintained a prolific correspondence with Jonathan Daniels, an aide to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. A bulging file of their missives can be found at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri, which is where I saw it.

The Army-commissioned investigators also saw the Nash note, which they concluded was “hearsay,” as one of them told me, and not proof enough of Woodson’s valor .

Indeed, the bar was higher on Omaha Beach compared with other wartime battles. Only four Medals of Honor and 214 Distinguished Service Crosses were awarded for valor on D-Day.

In the Navy, one African American received a high award, though not the highest. Doris “Dorie” Miller was the first hero of World War II—even before the United States officially went to war. The messman was collecting dirty laundry aboard the USS West Virginia in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese surprised the Americans on Dec. 7, 1941. After his ship was hit, Mr. Miller helped drag the mortally wounded captain off the bridge, then jumped behind an antiaircraft gun that he had never been trained to use and fired at enemy planes until he ran out of ammo.

Navy regulations forbade artillery training for African Americans, yet Mr. Miller, the son of a Texas sharecropper, “was blazing away as though he had fired one all his life,” an officer said later. The black press campaigned for a Medal of Honor for Mr. Miller, whose rank was cook third class. He eventually received the Navy Cross, which was at that time the third-highest award (today it is the second-highest).

In the case of Waverly Woodson, the record of the young medic’s heroics extended beyond Army documents. In fact, in the summer of 1944, the shy pre-med student became a star. Woodson’s story trails into June 7, 1944, when he performed one last act of bravery, saving four floundering soldiers whose guide rope broke as they were coming ashore. Then he collapsed. Woodson was taken to a hospital ship where he was treated for his injuries. Three days later, he asked to go back to the beach.

News of the medic’s heroics spread far beyond the beach. Newspaper reporters interviewed him. Back home, a black newspaper hailed him as “No. 1 invasion hero.” Stars and Stripes wrote that Woodson and the medics “covered themselves with glory on D-Day.”

Under pressure to acknowledge the good deeds of black soldiers, the Army issued a news release, dated August 28, 1944, that singled out “a story of a modest Negro American’s heroism.” The release said Woodson was “cited by his commanding officer for extraordinary bravery on D-Day.”

After Woodson returned home in late 1944, he was invited to recount his adventures in a nationwide radio broadcast. His proud father compiled all of the plaudits in a fat scrapbook that Waverly Woodson’s wife of 53 years, Joann, keeps close at hand in Clarksburg, Md.
Waverly Woodson, who left the Army as a staff sergeant, died on August 12, 2005. His grave is at Arlington National Cemetery, where American buries its heroes. His family has started a petition drive to obtain for him the Medal of Honor. U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-MD, has appealed to the Army to recommend Waverly Woodson for the Medal of Honor.

In June 2015, President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to an African-American soldier who fought ferociously in the trenches of France during World War I. Sgt. Henry Johnson, a member of the legendary 369th Infantry Regiment—the Harlem Hellfighters—was the Waverly Woodson of his day.

Johnson was lauded by reporters who covered in gripping detail his heroics on a lonely night in May 1918 when he single-handedly fought off a party of German raiders, left with only a bolo knife after his other weaponry was spent. Though he earned the nickname “Black Death” and praise from awestruck white reporters, Johnson won the French Croix de Guerre but never an American Purple Heart, which would have entitled him to disability benefits. He never healed from his battlefield injuries, and died 11 years later in poverty.

At a ceremony at the White House, President Obama paid tribute to a fallen, long-forgotten hero. “It is never too late,” he said, “to say thank you.”

Linda Hervieux is the author of Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day's Black Heroes, At Home and At War (Harper). For more on Woodson’s story, go to www.lindahervieux.com.

This article was originally published on June 6, 2016, in the Daily Beast  and is reprinted with permission. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Can a Medal of Honor recipient teach anything to your kids?


Does Clarence Sasser have anything to teach Minnesota school kids?

The Minnesota House of Representatives thinks he does.

Sasser, a medic drafted into service in Vietnam, is one of the lesson plans created by the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation to try to teach kids that, perhaps, there are lessons from Medal of Honor recipients that kids need to hear.
Clarence  Sasser
Medal of Honor Vietnam
January 10, 1968

The House voted 129-3 to pass a bill that encourages schools that voluntarily provide character development education to include Congressional Medal of Honor history and values in the curriculum.

Here’s a suggested lesson plan based on Mr. Sasser.

Rep. Bob Detter, R-Forest Lake, said the program is being used in Robbinsdale and Columbia Heights school districts, and 59 districts have participated in training, according to Session Daily.

Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul), Rep. Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester), and Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester) voted against the measure.

Should people be worried it could be a recruiting tool in disguise, similar to the marketing employed by area sports teams? Maybe.

On the other hand, keep in mind the lesson from Medal of Honor recipient Sal Giunta from his 2014 visit to Eagan.

“War is awful. War is terrible,” he said. “It’s disgusting, and gross, and brutal, and it should always be the last resort, and yet we’ve been doing it for 14 years.”

The foundation says the concepts of the lessons are courage, commitment, sacrifice, integrity, citizenship, and patriotism.

That last one is the most difficult to define since the country struggles constantly to define what it means to be patriotic, a debate that often splits along political affiliations.

They don’t give Medals of Honor to people who protest wars.

by Bob Collins  Minnesota Public Radio

Reprinted with permission. The original broadcast was aired on May 4, 2016, Minnesota Public Radio


Medal of Honor Citation Clarence Sasser​

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Sp5c. Sasser distinguished himself while assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3d Battalion. He was serving as a medical aidman with Company A, 3d Battalion, on a reconnaissance in force operation. His company was making an air assault when suddenly it was taken under heavy small arms, recoilless rifle, machinegun and rocket fire from well fortified enemy positions on 3 sides of the landing zone. During the first few minutes, over 30 casualties were sustained. Without hesitation, Sp5c. Sasser ran across an open rice paddy through a hail of fire to assist the wounded. After helping 1 man to safety, was painfully wounded in the left shoulder by fragments of an exploding rocket. Refusing medical attention, he ran through a barrage of rocket and automatic weapons fire to aid casualties of the initial attack and, after giving them urgently needed treatment, continued to search for other wounded. Despite two additional wounds immobilizing his legs he dragged himself through the mud toward another soldier 100 meters away. Although in agonizing pain and faint from loss of blood, Sp5c. Sasser reached the man, treated him, and proceeded on to encourage another group of soldiers to crawl 200 meters to relative safety. There he attended their wounds for 5 hours until they were evacuated. Sp5c. Sasser's extraordinary heroism is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.

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