In his first Medal of Honor ceremony, President Donald Trump presented America's highest valor award today to a Vietnam War Army medic for risking his own life again and again to save his fellow soldiers in a two-day battle that occurred 48 years ago.
Before a White House audience of military officials that included Defense Secretary James Mattis and Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley, Trump gave a solemn talk about the brave actions of Spec. 5 James C. McCloughan.
"Today we pay tribute to a veteran that went above and beyond the call of duty to protect our comrades, our country and our freedom," Trump said.
On May 13, 1969, PFC. McCloughan was serving combat medic with Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division, when his unit air assaulted into an enemy-infested area near Nui Yon Hill.
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"As Jim and his men jumped out of the helicopter, it quickly became clear that they were surrounded by enemy troops," Trump said. "Within minutes, two choppers were shot down."
McCloughan sprinted 100 meters in an open field through heavy fire to rescue a comrade too injured to move and carried him to safety, according to the award citation.
That same day, McCloughan's platoon was ordered to search the area near Nui Yon Hill, when the platoon was ambushed by a large North Vietnamese Army force and sustained heavy casualties.
While leading two wounded soldiers into a trench, shrapnel from an enemy rocket propelled grenade tore into McCloughan.
"That terrible wound didn't stop Jim from pulling those two men to safety," Trump said. "Nor did it stop him from answering the call of another wounded soldier and carrying him to safety atop his own badly injured body.
"One of his comrades said 'whoever called medic could immediately count on McCloughan. He's a brave guy.'"
McCloughan ignored a direct order to stay back and braved an enemy assault while moving into the kill zone on four more occasions to extract wounded comrades, the citation states.
Though bleeding heavily from wounds on his head and entire body, he refused evacuation to safety in order to remain at the battle sight with his fellow soldiers, who were heavily outnumbered by the North Vietnamese Army forces, according to the citation.
Trump described the tale. At the end of the first day of fighting, the unit pulled back in a defensive position for the night.
"One soldier's plea Jim could not ignore. Again 'Doc' did not hesitate. He crawled through a rice paddy thick with steel rain -- that means bullets all over the place, Trump said. "As soldiers watched him, they were sure that was the last time they would see Doc. They thought that was the end of their friend Jim.
"But after several minutes passed, Jim emerged from the smoke and fire carrying yet another soldier."
When he lifted the soldier on a medevac helicopter, his lieutenant ordered Jim to get in too.
"'Get in! He said. Get in!' But Jim refused. He said 'you are going to need me here,'" Trump said. "As Jim now says 'I would have rather died on the battlefield then know that men died because they did not have a medic.'"
On May 14, McCloughan's platoon was again ordered to advance. He was wounded a second time by small arms fire and shrapnel from an RPG while helping two wounded soldiers, the citation states.
In the final phases of the attack, two companies from the 2nd North Vietnamese Army Division and an element of 700 soldiers from a Viet Cong regiment descended upon Charlie Company's position on three sides.
McCloughan "went into the crossfire numerous times throughout the battle to extract the wounded soldiers, according to the citation. "His relentless and courageous actions inspired and motivated his comrades to fight for their survival."
When supplies ran low, McCloughan volunteered to hold a blinking strobe light in an open area as a marker for a nighttime resupply drop.
"He remained steadfast while bullets landed all around him and rocket propelled grenades flew over his prone, exposed body," according to the citation. "During the morning darkness of May 15, Private 1st Class McCloughan knocked out a rocket propelled grenade position with a grenade, fought and eliminated enemy soldiers" and treated numerous casualties while organizing medevac helicopter runs.
When McCloughan was growing up, his "dad taught him a simple, but powerful lesson -- never do anything halfway, always do your best. Jim took that lesson very much to heart," Trump said.
"Jim did what his father had taught him. He gave it his all and then he just kept giving. In those 48 hours, Jim rescued 10 American soldiers and tended to countless others," Trump said. "He was one of 32 men who fought until the end. They held their ground against more than 2,000 enemy troops."
In the audience stood 10 of McCloughan's fellow soldiers, five whom McCloughan saved in the battle.
Trump called all of them by first name and thanked them for their sacrifice and service.
"Stand up, wherever you may be. Where are you?" Trump said. Applause filled the room as the men stood. Trump clapped loudly.
Trump hung the Medal of Honor around McCloughan's neck, shook his hand and hugged him.
"For over two centuries, our brave men and women in uniform have overcome tyranny, fascism, communism, and every threat to our freedom. Every single threat, they have overcome," Trump said.
"And we have overcome these threats because of titans like Jim, whose spirit could never be conquered. That's what this this award is, and Jim's life represents so well -- America's unbreakable spirit."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.