Medal of Honor

by Richard Dieterle

One day when we were in the field up in I Corps, an emissary from the CO stopped by and told me how nice it would be if I could write up Pvt. Thompson for the Congressional Medal of Honor. During the Khê Sanh Campaign, Thompson had been standing with his back to the summit of a hill when an NVA shot him in the back with an AK-47. It was a case of serious bad luck. It transpired that somehow they had lost his body back in Đà Nẵng, and now we had to find some way to compensate for this bizarre SNAFU. The CO liked my write-ups for medals, as little adjustment had to be made in them at HQ to create the official citation. I knew all the catch phrases: "above and beyond the call of duty," "conferring great credit upon himself and his unit," etc. I would never refuse a request to write up someone deserving, but I just couldn't do it in this case. No doubt it would be a comfort to his parents and others who knew him, but it would hardly be fair to those who merited the medal to award it for any reason other than the display of the highest valor.

I remembered a story that had been told to me by someone who had been with A Co. two years prior. Once when A Co. was in the field, a sniper opened up from a small elevated bunker with no overhead cover about 75 meters distant. One of our guys jumped up and charged directly at him at a full run. He only got about 20 meters when the sniper dropped him. Nevertheless, he got back on his feet and charged again. Unfortunately, he was hit a second time and fell to the ground. Two bullets, however, were not enough to stop him, and he got up again and went to the attack. He was about to close in, when he got shot and knocked off his feet. This time, they thought, "He's bought the farm." The sniper was equally certain and ducked back down; but up from the ground rose the soldier for a third time, as Homer would have said, "like more than a man"; and he made one last determined rush over the top and blasted the sniper at point-blank range. Our guy was recommended for the Medal of Honor, but received the Distinguished Service Cross instead. When I heard that, I decided then and there that if I were going to write someone up for the Medal of Honor, it would have to be for something even more spectacular than that.

Đà Nẵng — here is a map of the city: Đà Nẵng.