Bronze Star

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Fr. Charles Joseph Watters

by:  Lawrence P. Grayson

In the early morning hours of November 9, 1967, as American artillery and aircraft pounded an 875-meter-high hill near Dak To, Vietnam, Fr. Charles Watters offered Mass at its base. Many Protestants joined the Catholics for the well-attended service. Soon, the chaplain would accompany these paratroopers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade as they moved against a North Vietnam Army (NVA) unit occupying the hill. The commanding general of the 173rd thought the objective was held by a depleted enemy force that suffered heavy casualties in recent fighting. The occupiers, however, were a fresh NVA regiment of 2,000 soldiers.

At 9:43 am, 330 men in three companies moved out. Companies C and D advanced abreast, while CompVany A was behind to protect the rear. The weather was clear and warm. The advance was slow through the thick, tangled foliage of scrub brush, bamboo and tall trees. Unknown to the Americans, the enemy had been preparing the site for several months, constructing camouflaged bunkers interconnected with trenches and tunnels and storing extensive quantities of supplies. At 10:30 am, with the first troopers a few hundred meters from the crest of the hill, a well-concealed NVA force opened fire with recoilless rifles, automatic weapons, small arms, rockets and hand grenades.

Father Watters moved to the line of contact. When a wounded trooper was standing in shock in front of the assaulting forces, Father raced forward, picked the man up and carried him to safety. Soon after, he ran through intense enemy fire to aid a fallen soldier. The chaplain moved wherever he was needed.

When the fighting began, Company A, which was to the rear, began constructing a landing zone that could be used for resupply and evacuation of the wounded. The work was slow as the company was under occasional fire. Then, at 2:30 pm, enemy troops launched a massive assault from lower on the hill, driving the company upwards toward the other American units. The paratroopers had walked into a carefully prepared ambush, with enemy units above and below them.

With their advance halted, the Americans formed a defensive perimeter, bringing in their injured. As the men pulled back, the chaplain went into “no man’s land,” between the two forces, exposing himself to friendly as well as enemy fire to recover two wounded soldiers.

Celebrating Mass during the war in Vietnam. Father Watters believed his place was always with the fighting men — in the combat zone.

The NVA were now striking from all sides in a well-coordinated attack. The paratroopers were firing intensely, but the NVA continued to come. When the American defensive zone was forced to contract, Father Watters saw several wounded men lying outside of it. Ignoring attempts to restrain him, he left the perimeter three times in the face of automatic weapons and mortar fire to carry and assist injured troopers to safety. Then he moved about, aiding the medics, distributing food and water, speaking words of encouragement, and giving last rites to the dying.

With the three companies now in a common defensive area, the several command posts and the wounded were placed in the middle. For several hours, the Americans fought off the enemy. The high expenditure of ammunition and lack of water made resupply essential, but heavy enemy fire made it difficult. Six helicopters were hit and driven away before one finally dropped needed supplies at 5:50 pm.

As the enemy assault intensified, U.S. air strikes and artillery were called in, but they had little effect because of the dense foliage. Then, just after dark, at 6:58 pm, a Marine Corps fighter-bomber released two 500-pound bombs destined for the edge of the American perimeter. One of them struck the upper part of a tree located near the center of the American position and exploded. Fragments of the bomb were showered over the area which contained the combined command group, the wounded, and the medics. It killed 42 men, including the chaplain, and wounded 45 others. This was one of the worst friendly-fire incidents of the Vietnam War.

Charles Joseph Watters was born in Jersey City, N.J., on January 17, 1927. After attending Seton Hall University, he went to Immaculate Conception Seminary, and was ordained a priest in 1953. While serving in several parishes in New Jersey, he earned a commercial pilot’s license, and then in 1962 joined the Air Force National Guard. Three years later, Father enlisted in the Army as a chaplain, successfully completed airborne training and was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade, nicknamed the Sky Soldiers.

In June 1966, Father Watters, now a major, began a twelve-month tour of duty in Vietnam. He believed his place was with the fighting men, and so when a unit he was attached to rotated to the rear, he would join another unit in combat. He was constantly in motion, saying Mass, tending the wounded, joking with the men and giving spiritual guidance. Fr. Charles Joseph Watters celebrating Mass in the combat zone during the Vietnam War, shortly before his death. Father Watters with his chaplain’s assistant saying Mass shortly before his death.

In February 1967, he took part in Operation Junction City, which included the only combat jump of the Vietnam War. This helped endear him to the men, who knew he would risk his life with them. During this tour of duty, he was awarded an Air Medal and a Bronze Star with a V for valor.

When his tour ended, he extended for another six months. After the friendly-fire incident in which Father Watters was killed, the Americans took Hill 875, and significantly crippled the fighting effectiveness of the North Vietnam units they fought. Fr. Charles Joseph Watters was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, and has had schools, a bridge, a Knights of Columbus council, and the Army Chaplain’s School named after him.

 

 

About the Author: Lawrence P. Grayson is a Visiting Scholar in the School of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America. He also serves as State Director for Pro-Life Activities, Knights of Columbus, Maryland.

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SSG Austin McCall earned the Bronze Star with Valor and a Purple Heart while serving as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan.

Staff Sergeant Austin McCall says he was inspired to join the Army, like many heroic young Americans these days, because of the events of September 11. He went on to become a Ranger and on January 5, 2010 he earned the Bronze Star while leading his squad to a compound in Eastern Afghanistan. They had received intelligence that it was a “guest house” for a suicide bomber. When he arrived at this compound he was met by an enemy combatant holding two grenades. It was a make or break moment and Sergeant McCall lived up to the challenge.

He was able to shoot the terrorist, but not before the latter launched one of his grenades in the McCall’s direction. What happened next could be measured in milliseconds. The first grenade hit McCall in the chest, landed at his feet, but miraculously did not explode. Instinctively he turned his head towards the rest of the Rangers in his unit and yelled “grenade” as the second one, lying on the enemies chest, exploded.

Flying shrapnel might have killed Sergeant Mcall, had he not turned his head. Although his life was spared, one large piece of medal tore through his cheek and took out two teeth on its exit. With the commotion caused by the grenade other terrorists entered the fray.

In spite of his injuries, McCall maintained his calm and continued to heroically lead his squad. They eventually overcame the enemy and secured the compound. When the dust settled Sergeant McCall was covered in blood from his facial injuries and was forced to endure the pain, without medication, for another half hour before he could be evacuated.

There are two things which make this man worthy of admiration.

The Bronze Star it is the fourth-highest combat award of the U.S. Armed Forces

First of all, he was quick to deflect the praise he earned for his actions. “(As Rangers) that’s just what we do,” he said. “We go to where the fight is. We are there to engage and take care of the bad guys. That’s the way we are. We are all Rangers – the best gun fighters in the world.”

The second thing which makes this warrior worthy of our respect is his willingness to get back into the fight. He was quoted he in an article saying he “looks forward to doing it all over again.” This was not just tough talk either. A month after his brush with death and a most painful injury Sergeant McCall is back in the fight with a scar across the face to prove that it really is “hard to keep a good man down.”

“Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission though I be the lone survivor.” Last stanza of the Army Ranger creed.

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James Eddie Wright

Seargent James Eddie Wright, hand-to-hand combat instructor at the Marine Corps Martial Arts Commitment to Excellence (MACE) program at Raider Hall in Quantico, VA.

The Amazing story of Sergeant James “Eddie” Wright. The story below appeared on the Blackfive website.

*   *   *   *

…On April 6, Wright was in the midst of his second tour in Iraq, this time living his childhood dream as a recon Marine. The 28-year-old was finally doing the kind of missions for which he longed. He planned to make a life in the Corps.

On April 7, all that changed.

That day, Wright and his fellow Marines with the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based Bravo Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, now based at Camp Fallujah, were called to escort a 15-vehicle convoy of Humvees and 7-ton trucks on a 10-mile trek to a supply point, where they would hunt for enemy mortar teams.

As the company rolled toward its destination, the commander of Bravo’s 2nd Platoon, Capt. Brent Morel, sensed something was wrong. The road was bare of traffic, a clear sign of nearby danger — possibly an ambush, an IED or a mine. The Marines dismounted and swept the area, but found nothing.

Soon after, Wright and his team moved forward in the convoy’s lead Humvee and learned it wasn’t a false alarm, after all. An incredible maelstrom of fire broke out, as enemy machine-gun rounds, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars exploded around the convoy.

Bullets were whizzing through one window out the other, Wright recalled.

“It’s a miracle nobody got shot in the face or the head.”

As the corporal opened fire with his M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, a machine gunner manning a weapon in the Humvee’s gun turret above took a round in the leg and groin. He passed out with his head exposed to the hail of fire. But before Wright and his fellow Marines could get the gunner down from his exposed position, an explosion rocked the vehicle.

Wright never saw it coming, but the RPG slammed into his SAW, blowing his helmet and safety glasses off and rupturing his left eardrum.

That was the least of his injuries, he realized a moment later.

“I opened my eyes and looked at my hands and I saw they were both blown off,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘damn, both of them?’.”

The explosion also ripped Wright’s thigh wide open and broke his femur. With the thigh bone sticking out, his leg was bleeding wildly and his hands gone, Wright knew he had to get medical attention fast.

What happened after that would earn Wright the Bronze Star.

As junior Marines in the Humvee began “freaking out” about Wright’s gruesome injuries, the noncommissioned officer knew he needed to keep his cool. Wright’s team leader Sgt. Eric Kocher was also hit in the arm by a bullet, leaving the team three men down.

According to his Bronze Star citation, Wright “was the epitome of composure.”

Bronze_Star_medal

Bronze Star

“Understanding the severity of his own injuries, he calmly instructed others on how to remove the radio, call for support and render first aid,” the citation states. “He also pointed out enemy machine-gun emplacements to his fellow Marines assisting in the demise of 26 enemies killed in action.”

Wright instructed one of his lance corporals to put a tourniquet on his wounds.

“I had to stay calm. If I freaked out the younger Marines would freak out. The Marines without combat experience would freak out,” Wright recalled.

Kocher, unable to operate his weapon with one arm, jumped in the driver’s seat and another Marine took his place on the right to provide security as they drove out of the kill zone.

Meanwhile Wright helped direct fire at machine gun emplacements as the battered Humvee sped away.

All together, Bravo Company faced at least 40, perhaps 60, enemy insurgents, that day.

Although Wright’s Humvee made it out without fatalities, the company would lose Capt. Morel, who died after being hit in the chest by machine gun fire…

…Wright wanted to be a Marine since he first heard leathernecks calling cadence calls as a kid and he wants to stay in the Marine Corps, despite his injuries.

Wright and his therapist agree that if he works hard enough, he will be able to do almost anything required of him except pulling the trigger of a weapon.

“I think the Marine Corps will give me a fair chance. I just need to demonstrate I can do it,” he said. “If I could stay in my battalion that would be great.”

Most of all, Wright wishes he was still in Iraq helping his unit.

“I’d trade that medal for a chance to go back there.”

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