1969 medic gets Medal of Honor

‘In awe of your brav­ery,’ Trump tells ex-pri­vate first class

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL -

WASH­ING­TON — An Army medic who “ran into dan­ger” to save wounded sol­diers dur­ing a Viet­nam War bat­tle de­spite his own se­ri­ous wounds be­came on Mon­day the first Medal of Honor re­cip­i­ent un­der Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, 48 years af­ter the self­less acts of brav­ery for which James McCloughan is now na­tion­ally rec­og­nized.

McCloughan mouthed “thank you” as Trump placed the dis­tinc­tive blue rib­bon hold­ing the medal around the neck of the for­mer Army pri­vate first class. As the pres­i­dent and com­man­der in chief shook McCloughan’s hand, Trump said “very proud of you” and then pulled the for­mer sol­dier into an em­brace.

“I know I speak for ev­ery per­son here when I say we are in awe of your brav­ery and your ac­tions,” Trump said af­ter de­scrib­ing McCloughan’s ac­tions for a rapt au­di­ence that in­cluded nu­mer­ous se­nior White House and ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials.

Re­tired Marine Gen. John Kelly, sworn in hours ear­lier to be the new White House chief of staff, at­tended.

McCloughan said in a brief state­ment on the White House drive­way af­ter the cer­e­mony that it was “hum­bling” to re­ceive the medal. Now 71 and re­tired, he pledged to do his best to rep­re­sent the men he fought along­side “as the care­taker of this sym­bol of courage and ac­tion beyond the call of duty.”

“I got ini­ti­ated the very first day,” McCloughan re­called in a re­cent in­ter­view with Army bi­og­ra­phers. “We hit our first am­bush. We had a man die. Had a few peo­ple to patch up. And I shot a man. That’s a lot to digest in your first day.

“But I didn’t know I was go­ing to face any­thing like Tam Ky,” he added, al­lud­ing to the lo­ca­tion of a vi­cious 48-hour bat­tle three months af­ter he ar­rived in Viet­nam.

McCloughan was a 23-yearold pri­vate first class who had been drafted into the Army when he found him­self in the mid­dle of the rag­ing, days­long Bat­tle of Nui Yon Hill in May of 1969. McCloughan vol­un­tar­ily en­tered the “kill zone” to res­cue in­jured com­rades, even as he was pelted with shrap­nel from a rocket-pro­pelled grenade, the back of his body slashed from head to foot.

In its an­nounce­ment in June, the White House said McCloughan “vol­un­tar­ily risked his life on nine sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions to res­cue wounded and dis­ori­ented com­rades. He suf­fered wounds from shrap­nel and small arms fire on three sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions, but re­fused med­i­cal evac­u­a­tion to stay with his unit, and con­tin­ued to brave en­emy fire to res­cue, treat and de­fend wounded Amer­i­cans.”

McCloughan, who lives in South Haven, Mich., said in a June in­ter­view that the bat­tle was “the worst two days of my life.”

McCloughan de­scribed the shrap­nel as “a real bad sting” and re­called, “I was tend­ing to two guys and drag­ging them at the same time into a trench line.” He said he looked down to see him­self cov­ered with blood from wounds so bad that they prompted a cap­tain to sug­gest that he leave the bat­tle­field to seek treat­ment.

“He knew me enough to know that I wasn’t go­ing,” McCloughan said.

The com­bat medic stuck around un­til the bat­tle ended, go­ing to the aid of his men and fight­ing the en­emy, even knock­ing out an en­emy po­si­tion with a grenade at one point. In all, the Pen­tagon cred­its McCloughan with sav­ing the lives of 10 mem­bers of his com­pany.

Re­flect­ing on his ex­pe­ri­ence 48 years later, McCloughan ex­plained to the Army bi­og­ra­phers that he was un­set­tled upon learn­ing that he’d be sent to Viet­nam al­most im­me­di­ately upon com­plet­ing ba­sic train­ing. He’d hoped to re­main state­side, at least to start his time in the Army, but the job he wanted went to another sol­dier who’d en­listed.

Even­tu­ally, he said: “I got into the right frame of mind that I will serve my coun­try. I didn’t vol­un­teer to do it, but they’ve asked me, so that’s what I’ll do.”

The Medal of Honor is given to armed forces mem­bers who dis­tin­guish them­selves by go­ing above and beyond the call of duty in bat­tle.

McCloughan left the Army in 1970 and spent decades teach­ing psy­chol­ogy and so­ci­ol­ogy, and coach­ing foot­ball, base­ball and wrestling at South Haven High School. He re­tired in 2008.

In 2016, Defense Sec­re­tary Ash­ton Carter rec­om­mended McCloughan for the Medal of Honor. But since the medal must be awarded within five years of the re­cip­i­ent’s ac­tions, Congress needed to pass a bill waiv­ing the time limit. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama signed the mea­sure in late 2016, but he didn’t get the op­por­tu­nity to rec­og­nize McCloughan with the medal be­fore his pres­i­den­tial term ended this year.

“Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump will be putting that on me for the first time in his ex­pe­ri­ence of do­ing such a thing,” McCloughan said be­fore the cer­e­mony. “That’s pretty special.” In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was contributed by Dar­lene Su­perville and Mike House­holder of The Associated Press; and by An­drew deGrandpre of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

AP/PABLO MARTINEZ MONSI­VAIS

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump be­stows the na­tion’s high­est mil­i­tary honor on for­mer Army medic James McCloughan on Mon­day at the White House.

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