Medal of Honor

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Hershel “Woody” Williams was warmly greeted by an enthusiastic audience upon his arrival at the Y-12’s National Security Complex for a Town Hall Forum.

by: Norman Fulkerson

Tennessee earned the nickname “Volunteer State” during the War of 1812 because of the prominent role played by her sons, especially during the Battle of New Orleans. When Andrew Jackson asked the state for 2000 troops, they sent 30,000. It was therefore with good reason that the Congressional Medal of Honor Society chose Knoxville as the site for their 2014 Convention honoring a collection of 48 heroes who earned our nations highest award for heroism, the Medal of Honor.

Sadly, not everyone in town knew about this unique event. Such was the case with a local barber who cut my hair. His father was a World War II veteran however, who often reminded his son of the slogan drilled into their heads. “You will do the difficult immediately,” the young recruits of World War II were told, “the impossible will take a little longer.”

As my barber plied his trade I shared the stories from a marvelous town hall forum I had just attended with Medal of Honor recipients Col. Wesley Fox, Hershel “Woody” Williams and Ron Rosser.

“I will fight anyone who dares to take our freedom away!”

CWO Hershel “Woody” Williams

CWO Hershel “Woody” Williams, at 91 years of age, is one of the oldest living recipients. The audience chuckled when he chided organizers for giving him such a comfortable chair. “At my age,” he said, “I might fall asleep.” Nevertheless when it came his turn to speak he sat on the edge of his chair with the determination of one ready for more combat.

He was initially inspired to serve by the thought that our nation was in danger and our very freedom threatened. “I will join the Marines,” he recalled thinking, “and fight anyone who dares to take our freedom away.” In his mind this would entail staying on American soil. CWO Williams was shocked, after joining the Marine Corps and to find out that he, a boy from Fairmont, West Virginia, was heading to a place he had never heard of: the South Pacific.

He would ultimately earn our nations highest award during the battle for Iwo Jima on the very same day as the iconic flag-raising that has come to symbolize American valor. He was part of what was initially a six-man-group of flamethrowers, a weapon that was widely used during the conflict. The life expectancy of such men in battle, he explained to an awestruck audience, was five minutes. All his men were quickly killed leaving him with the unenviable task of whipping out a network of six reinforced concrete pillboxes used by the Japanese to rain down death upon his fellow Americans.

The audience sat on their edge of their seats as he described advancing with his 70-pound flamethrower in the face of withering small arms fire. He made frequent trips back to his own lines to obtain serviced flamethrowers in a battle that lasted four hours. He was ultimately successful and not only survived but miraculously came through the ordeal without a single scratch.

One Man Assault
Sgt. Ron Rosser told of an equally gripping battle he fought during the Korean War when his actions earned him the Medal of Honor. He was a forward observer for Company L, 38th Infantry on a bitterly cold January day in 1952, where temperatures dipped to 25 degrees below zero. They numbered 173 and were charged with an impossible task of taking a hill that was fortified with 1500 enemy combatants. Their initial attempt was repelled by fierce automatic-weapons, small-arms, artillery and mortar fire. With numerous casualties and a commanding officer who was incapacitated Sgt. Rosser volunteered to lead the surviving members up the hill.

He courageously led his man back into the fight. Upon reaching the top of the hill, however, he looked around and found he was all alone. The rest had either been killed or taken cover to avoid what seemed certain death. Sgt. Rosser engaged in hand to hand combat and a point blank fire fight. After exhausting his ammunition, he went back down the hill gathering wounded along the way. On two more occasions he would return to the top of the hill and engage an enemy that seemed shocked at their inability to kill one determined American soldier. During his action Sgt. Rosser single handedly killed thirteen of the enemy.

When the battle was over he accompanied the withdrawing company and, in spite of his own injuries, made several trips across open terrain under enemy fire to gather those more wounded than himself.

True Humility
Col. Wesley Fox served as a Marine for 43 years and is also a two-war veteran. After earning a Purple Heart in the Korean War, he went on to serve in Vietnam for thirteen months as an advisor. In February of 1969, he was the commanding officer of Company A and was wounded by a fierce attack from a well concealed enemy force. Col. (then Capt.) Fox maneuvered himself into a position in which he could assess the situation. As his men began to implement the plan he had devised, the enemy attacked and Capt. Fox was wounded once again. He nevertheless kept his calm, advanced through enemy fire, neutralized the enemy position then ordered an assault on the hostile emplacement.

The battle continued to rage, and after his executive officer was killed, Capt. Fox reorganized the company and directed the fire of his men as they hurled grenades and forced the enemy to retreat. During this final assault Col. Fox was wounded a third time. He refused medical assistance however so that he could establish a defensive position and help organize evacuation of the wounded. He explained the concern he had that all his men were accounted for and that they all got out of the battle zone.

A key point in this particular battle was when the clouds parted and allowed the sun to brilliantly shine through. Col. Fox attributed such a turn of events to Divine Intervention because it allowed him to call in the much needed air strikes to eliminate machine gun nests which had caused so much devastation to his men.

This is a very brief narration of an intense battle where one man showed unbelievable courage and leadership. Hearing Col. Fox’s third-person-narrative of the action would lead one to think he was not even there when it happened. It was a refreshing example of humility in a man who does the impossible yet is hesitant to draw the spotlight upon him.

Conversation with a Flamethrower
The rest of the convention events included numerous school visits, the closing Gala that drew 1,700 participants, and the autograph session. During the town hall forum event, a Vietnam veteran sitting next to me said he planned on going.

“I have never asked anyone for an autograph,” he quickly added, “but these men’s signatures mean something.” We both agreed they were of more value than the utterly meaningless yet so coveted signatures of athletes, musicians and movie stars.

This same appreciation could be seen in all those who came out to see the recipients. A touching scene was that of a mother with her young son going through the hotel lobby. One by one, she introduced the wide eyed boy to the men with the blue ribbons and attached medal hanging around their necks. The look of admiration in the boy’s eyes was a common sight with old and young during the memorable days in Knoxville.

Before the event was over, I had a memorable and candid conversation with CWO Williams. He is remarkably strong, both physically and mentally, for someone who fought at Iwo Jima. What is the secret for your longevity? I asked.

“The secret,” he said, “is to always keep a positive attitude.” Then as his eyes welled up with tears he added, “I have been given so much from my country, I am just happy that I can give something back.” I then thanked him for being such a positive role model for others, and for his heroism in World War II. After all, he volunteered to serve his country because America’s freedom was at stake. He willingly put his life on the line, did many difficult things… but on a given day, at a crucial moment, in one of our nations most historic battles, he did what others would have deemed impossible.

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“Carpenter was nominated for the nation’s highest award for valor following reports that he covered a grenade to save the life of his friend, Lance Cpl. Nicholas Eufrazio, during an insurgent attack in the Marjah district of Helmand province as the two Marines were standing guard on a rooftop on Nov. 21, 2010. Carpenter and Eufrazio survived the blast, but suffered severe wounds. Carpenter lost an eye and most of his teeth and shattered his jaw; his arm was also broken in several places.

“Damage from shrapnel to the frontal lobe of Eufrazio’s brain left him unable to speak for two years.

“The Marine Corps investigation of the incident to determine whether Carpenter deserved the award was complicated by several factors: There were no other witnesses, Carpenter couldn’t remember what happened because of trauma and Eufrazio was unable to speak until late 2012.”

To read more click here.

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Maj. Gen. James Livingston USMC (Ret.) is a Medal of Honor Recipient whose heroism can now be cheapened by any imposter audacious enough to wear the medals he courageously earned.

By Major General James E. Livingston, USMC (Ret.)

The federal government failed us all on June 28th, and in more ways than one. Days before Americans celebrated the anniversary of our nation’s hard-fought independence, the Supreme Court of the United States declared unconstitutional the Stolen Valor Act. Overshadowed by its decision to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), the Court’s decision was a landmark blow to a definitive feature of American culture: The prestige and honor we bestow upon sacrifices made by few while protecting the freedoms enjoyed by all.

According to the Court, Congress violated your First Amendment rights to free speech by making it a federal crime for you to knowingly issue false claims about your receipt of military awards and decorations for heroism, including America’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor. If, that is, you do so without the intent to defraud — as if one would falsely claim their receipt of America’s top military awards and decorations for heroism for other purposes.

While the Supreme Court effectively consents to imposing limitations to the First Amendment in the instances of slander and unfounded character assassination attempts targeting persons and organizations, according to SCOTUSblog, “The Court concluded that the Stolen Valor Act is unconstitutional because the Government had not shown that the statute is necessary to protect the integrity of the system of military honors — the interest the Government had identified in support of the Act.”

The decision to eliminate any penalty for those persons falsely claiming receivership of these hard-earned and treasured honors is disturbing in many ways. But it brings to mind two simple questions: Can we meaningfully protect the integrity of the system of military honors without legally deterring activities that diminish the sanctity of those honors? Moreover, by scrapping such legal deterrents, by making it lawful for anyone to falsely claim participation in that system, has the Supreme Court not diminished the integrity of the system of military honors, which so clearly stems from its inclusion of a select few, for select reasons?

The great irony of this decision is glaring. It is a crime to falsely claim degrees earned from universities for personal gain and employment. It is a crime to cheat on professional examinations in college. It is a crime to provide false or misleading information on a bank or mortgage loan application. Likewise, it is a crime to lie to law enforcement officials during the course of an investigation, and pose as an unlicensed professional, such as a doctor, lawyer or police officer. It is even a crime to falsify a student education loan or a passport application.

These are all examples of fraud for personal gain. And I fail to see how falsely claiming undeserved military combat honors, especially the Medal of Honor, Purple Heart, or any award for valor is anything less than the greatest of frauds. Particularly as perpetrators’ agendas are virtually always focused on attaining notoriety and some form of accommodation by claiming receipt of special acknowledgements for service to our country which are reserved by the federal government for a very special group of patriots.

Those who make such claims regarding the Medal of Honor, Purple Heart and other decorations for valor tarnish the prestige, sanctity, honor and sacrifices of those who have legitimately earned these distinctions. In so doing, they denigrate the system of military honors, public perception of that system, and chip away at the prestige our society rightly assigns to military service, and combat heroism.

I have personally served with fine young Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen who legitimately earned accolades and honors reserved for military heroes for their service to our country — many of whom never lived to benefit from their sacrifices. In my view, it is a disgusting and tragic footnote to our collective history that our highest court has determined accolades for such service are, in essence, free to acquire, without proper sanction, and may be displayed in the public domain under false pretenses by individuals who might not have even served in uniform.

It is a privilege for Americans to serve in uniform, and in particular an honor to be chosen to serve in the United States Marine Corps. But these imposters, these brazen charlatans who lay claim to these undeserved honors make it an absolute disgrace — a true dishonor — to all of us who have served in uniform. Let alone suffered the pain of battle, faced an enemy, collected the dead and wounded, and lived with the aftermath of doing a job that most cannot fathom, or would ever wish to perform.

Of course, these imposters do more than dishonor those of us who have served. They dishonor the values and integrity of our nation and its proud heritage.
Our current administration and the Supreme Court — through their continued and questionable actions — have made it abundantly clear that personal accountability, personal and national honor, individual integrity, and duty to the nation above oneself mean much less than self-gratification, the agendas of political action committees, currying favor for elected office, and claiming unearned honors for personal gain through any means.

These are neither the values, nor a legacy we should impart to future generations of Americans. If the federal government is unwilling to do what is right in this case, individual states must rectify this gross lapse in judgment. Just as states implemented their individual versions of immigration reform laws after being let down by the federal government, the states should establish laws to protect these honors which, according to federal law, are now so easily degraded and devalued by the shameful actions of a despicable few.

The implementation of laws to protect our honor, and punish those who would abrogate, who would pursue such conduct to dishonor those of us who have fought to protect their freedoms, is long overdue in many states. And there is no better time than the present to take action to address our federal government’s failures.

 

Major General James E. Livingston, USMC (Ret) is a recipient of the Medal of Honor. In addition to serving on numerous corporate and nonprofit boards, he is the CEO of Kronos Advisory. An autobiographical account of Gen Livingston’s military career, including his courageous actions at Dai Do, Vietnam that earned him the highest military decoration awarded by the United States Government, is presented in his book Noble Warrior: The Story of Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston, USMC (Ret.), Medal of Honor.

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Sergeant Leslie Halasz Sabo, Jr.

Forty years ago Monday, [Sergeant] Leslie Sabo of Ellwood City died in Cambodia while trying to save his buddies from a North Vietnamese ambush that killed seven of his 101st Airborne Division comrades.

The 22-year-old was recommended posthumously for the nation’s highest award, the Medal of Honor.

Read more CLICK HERE.

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Written by Lawrence P. Grayson   

On Easter morning, March 25, 1951, the Catholic priest mounted the steps of a partially destroyed church, and turned to face his congregation, some 60 men–gaunt, foul-smelling, in tattered clothing. Fr. Emil Kapaun raised a small, homemade, wooden cross to begin a prayer service, led the men in the Rosary, heard the confessions of the Catholics, and performed a Baptism. Then, he wept because there was no bread or wine to consecrate so that the men could receive the Eucharist. The U.S. Army chaplain, with a patch covering his injured eye and supported by a crudely-made cane, may have been broken in body, but was strong in spirit.

The following Sunday, Father Kapaun collapsed. His condition was serious–a blood clot, severe vein inflammation, malnutrition–but the Chinese guards in the North Korean prison camp would allow no medical treatment, not even painkillers. After languishing for several weeks, he died on May 23 and was buried in a mass grave.

Emil Kapaun was born on April 16, 1916 to a poor, but faith-filled farm family on the prairies of eastern Kansas. Life was hard and even children had to learn to be resourceful as mechanics and carpenters and to care for the animals during bitter winters and brutally hot summers. With a strong desire to become a priest, he attended Benedictine Conception Abbey to complete high school and college, continued his studies at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis, and was ordained in 1940.

Fr. Emil Kapaun celebrating a field Mass on the hood of a jeep.

Heroic Chaplain

When the United States entered World War II, he asked to become a military chaplain. His bishop initially refused, but later relented. Father Kapaun enlisted in 1944 in the Army, served for two years in Burma and India, then returned to civilian life. Two years later, he reenlisted and was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division in Japan.

In June 1950, a North Korean army crossed the 38th parallel, and advanced quickly toward Seoul, South Korea. The U.S. intervened militarily, with the 1st Cavalry Division executing an amphibious landing to block the advancing army. The enemy onslaught was severe and the U.S. units soon were in retreat. Fighting was intense. Father Kapaun, with his soldier-parishioners in danger, was tireless. He moved among the GIs, ignoring enemy fire, comforting the wounded, administering the last rites, burying the dead, and offering Mass whenever and wherever he could. On one occasion, he went in front of the U.S. lines, in spite of intense fire, to rescue a wounded soldier.

By August, the U.S. troops had been pushed to the southern end of Korea, near the port of Pusan. Then, on September 15, 1950, the war took a radical turn when U.S. troops landed at Inchon behind the invading army. The North Korean forces fled northward, with the Americans in pursuit. Within a few weeks, the 1st Cavalry Division had crossed the 38th parallel. Unknown to them, China, which had secretly moved a huge army into North Korea, was about to enter the war.

Fearless in Danger
The night of November 1 was quiet. Father Kapaun’s battalion, having suffered some 400 casualties among its roster of 700 soldiers, was placed in a reserve position. Chinese troops, however, had infiltrated to within a short distance of them. Suddenly, just before midnight, there was a cacophony of bugles, horns and whistles, as the enemy attacked from all sides.

Father Kapaun showing his pipe after it was shot out of his mouth by an enemy sniper.

Fr. Emil Kapaun scrambled among foxholes, sharing a prayer with one soldier, saying a comforting word to another. He assembled many wounded in an abandoned log dugout. All the next day, he scanned the battlefield and, some 15 times, when he spotted a wounded soldier would crawl out and drag the man back to the battalion’s position. By day’s end, the defensive perimeter was drawn so tightly that the log hut and the wounded it contained were outside of it. As evening came and another attack was imminent, the chaplain left the main force for the shelter so that he could be with the wounded. It was soon overrun, and Father Kapaun pleaded for the safety of the injured. Approximately three-quarters of the men in the battalion had been killed or captured.

Admirable Self-Sacrifice
Hundreds of U.S. prisoners were marched northward over snow-covered crests. Whenever the column paused, Father Kapaun hurried up and down the line, encouraging the men to pray, exhorting them not to give up. When a man had to be carried or be left to die, Father Kapaun, although suffering from frostbite himself, set the example by helping to carry a makeshift stretcher. Finally, they reached their destination, a frigid, mountainous area near the Chinese border. The poorly dressed prisoners were given so little to eat that they were starving to death.

For the men to survive they would have to steal food from their captors. So, praying to Saint Dismas, the “Good Thief,” Father Kapaun would sneak out of his hut in the middle of the night, often coming back with a sack of grain, potatoes or corn. He volunteered for details to gather wood because the route passed the compound where the enlisted men were kept, and he could encourage them with a prayer, and sometimes slip out of line to visit the sick and wounded. He also undertook tasks that repulsed others, such as cleaning latrines and washing the soiled clothing of men with dysentery.

Unwavering Faith
Father Kapaun’s faith never wavered. While he was willing to forgive the failings of prisoners toward their captors, he allowed no leeway in regard to the doctrines of the Church. He continually reminded prisoners to pray, assuring them that in spite of their difficulties, Our Lord would take care of them. As a result of his example, some 15 of his fellow prisoners converted to the Catholic Faith.

Fr. Emil Kapaun (second from right–note cross on helmet) helping a wounded soldier.

Fr. Emil Kapaun’s practice of sharing his meager rations with others who were weaker, lowered his resistance to disease, and eventually led to his death. For his heroic behavior, he received many posthumous honors, including the Distinguished Service Cross and Legion of Merit, had buildings, chapels, a high school, and several Knights of Columbus councils named in his honor, and is currently being considered for the Medal of Honor. In 1993, the Pope declared Father Kapaun a “Servant of God,” and his cause for canonization is pending.

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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Fr._Capodanno.jpgby:  Lawrence P. Grayson 

September 4, 1967, Quong Tin Province, Republic of Vietnam. A routine, pre-dawn, sweeping operation by a Marine company was turning into a major battle with a large force of the North Vietnamese Army. Three additional companies of Marines were committed. Fr. Vincent Capodanno, M.M. was granted permission to accompany the reinforcements, as he knew there would be many wounded and killed.

At 2:45 p.m., two platoons came under heavy fire on one side of a hill. The chaplain, left his relatively safe position on the other side, and raced across an open area

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Father Capodanno praying with the troops.

raked by fire to be near the men. To repel the enemy, tear gas was dropped on the U.S. position. The Marines had gas masks, but Father Capodanno, seeing that a chocking Marine was without one, gave him his. He continued to go to wounded Marines and help them back to the defensive perimeter or administer last rites.

As he ran toward a mortally wounded man, shrapnel from an exploding mortar inflicted multiple wounds to his right arm and leg. Fr. Capodanno, his arm held stiffly at his side, reached the Marine, and prayed with him until he died. Refusing medical aid, the chaplain worked his way over to several other wounded Marines to comfort them.

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Fr. Capodanno (right) comforting a wounded Marine.

A sergeant, who had been wounded five times, lay dazed on an exposed slope. The chaplain reached him and dragged him into a depression to save his life. As the fighting raged, Father Capodanno was wounded a second time, but still refused to leave the battlefield.

About 6:30 p.m., three Marines moved to destroy an enemy machine gun; two were killed and the third wounded. Fr. Capodanno reached the injured man, and as his right hand was useless blessed him with his left. Just then a medic who had been coming to aid the wounded Marine was shot. Father ran to the medic, positioning his body between the medic and the enemy. The machine gunner opened fire killing both men.

Father Capodanno suffered 27 bullet wounds, from his head to his spine. Immediately, news of his death circulated throughout the battlefield, and was radioed to the command center as: “Number 21 is KIA.” Twenty-one is the code for the chaplain.

Fr. Vincent Capodanno had come a long way from his birth on February 13, 1929 to an Italian immigrant family on Staten Island, NY. He was the youngest of ten

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Fr. Vincent R. Capodanno, M.M.

children born to the devout, Catholic family. Although he never spoke of an interest in the priesthood during his early years, he frequently attended daily Mass on his way to a local, public high school. When he graduated, he continued the practice, as he took a job as a clerk in an insurance company and attended night classes at Fordham University. At the age of 20, he decided to become a Maryknoll missioner, and after nine years of study and preparation was ordained.

Two months later, Father and five other Maryknollers were sent to Taiwan. For the next year, he studied the Hakka-Chinese dialect to prepare him for his ministry to this minority group in the mountains of western Taiwan. He spent the remainder of his initial six-year assignment undertaking a variety of responsibilities. Then, after a traditional six-month furlough, he was assigned to Hong Kong. Father Capodanno expressed a desire to return to Taiwan, but was refused. He then requested permission to join the Navy Chaplain Corps and serve with the Marines in Vietnam. This was approved and, in late 1965, he was commissioned a lieutenant. In April 1966, he was assigned to the 7th Marine Regiment, south of Da Nang. As the only Catholic chaplain in the regiment, he had to see to the spiritual needs of the men in three battalions, spread over a wide area.

Father Capodanno lived as close to the combat Marines as possible, spending more time at combat bases, where he knew he was needed, than at the battalion command post. He marched with them, carried the same loads, went on patrol with them, shared his rations, and made himself fully accessible to them. On Sundays, he said Mass at each of the battalions, often traveling from one to the other by helicopter. In 1966, he participated in six combat operations, and was awarded a Bronze Star and a Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.

Normally, chaplains are transferred from field combat units after six months. Fr. Vincent Capodanno served eight months before being attached to a medical battalion to serve the hospitalized. He longed to be with the field unit again, and often visited his old battalion during its operations. When his year-long tour of duty was coming to an end, he requested a six month extension. It was approved, and he was assigned to the 5th Marine Regiment in the Que Son Valley, where some of the fiercest fighting was going on. He voluntarily joined the officers who “walked the line” at night to visit the forward posts and assure that the defenses were ready. Fr. Capodanno stayed close to the fighting men, comforting them, saying Mass, hearing Confessions, listening to their problems, writing to their families. Then came the fateful day in September.

Fr. Vincent R. Capodanno received the Medal of Honor from his country for his heroism, and has been made a “Servant of God” by his Church for his selflessness towards others. His cause for canonization is being considered.

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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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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texas lottery

Sgt. Rafael Peralta died while smothering a grenade during the battle for Fallujah.

I just came across a story today about Pfc. Ricardo Peralta, who joined the Marines to carry on the legacy of his brother, Navy Cross Recipient Sergeant Rafael Peralta.

Sgt. Peralta died very much like Michael Monsoor when he led a group of other Marines through a series of house clearings, during the November 2004 Battle for Fallujah. They were successful in the first three house, but things went bad in a hurry as they charged the fourth.

The Landstuhl Hospital Care Project describes how Sgt. Peralta “found two rooms empty on the ground floor, but upon opening a third door he was hit multiple times with AK-47 fire that left him severely wounded. He dropped to the floor and moved aside in order to allow the Marines behind him to return fire.”

Moments later terrorist inside the room threw a grenade at the Marines. Sgt. Peraldas describes how “The two Marines with Sgt. Peralta tried to get out of the room, but could not. Sgt. Peralta was still conscious on the floor and reports indicate that despite his wounds, he was able to reach for the grenade and pull it under his body absorbing the majority of the lethal blast and shrapnel which killed him instantly, but saved the lives of his fellow Marines.”

In a Newsweek article about the event, Cpl. Robert Reynolds explained how Sgt. Peralta collapsed onto the floor in a “pool of blood,” after being shot. “Then Reynolds spotted what is the dread of every infantryman: a grenade bouncing toward the squad. “It was yellow and it came from a room to our side,” he says. Reynolds says he watched Peralta reach out and drag the grenade under his body.”

Pfc Ricardo Peralta was only 14 when his brother died in such a selfless way, but is quoted in the above article as saying, “I knew what I had to do, and that was to enlist in the Marine Corps.”

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Private Barney Hajiro is said to have epitomized his unit’s brash motto, “Go for Broke!”

“During one of the 442nd’s fiercest campaigns in dense forests of France’s Vosges Mountains to free the towns of Bruyeres and Biffontaine, Hajiro on Oct. 29, 1944, led a charge  on “Suicide Hill” drawing fire and single-handedly destroying two machine gun nests and killing two enemy snipers before being wounded by a third machine gun.

“The effort by the nisei soldiers of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team’s I and K companies to rescue Texas 36th Division’s “Lost Battalion” is considered to be one of the key battles in U.S. Army history… “There was shooting coming from all sides. I got hit in my arm … my BAR was hit … and then my helmet was blown off my head.”

“During the battle, an enemy bullet had penetrated Hajiro’s left wrist and severed a nerve. Another bullet had entered his shoulder. His left cheek also was scarred by an enemy bullet.

“Several days earlier Hajiro, while acting as a sentry near Bruyeres, helped allied troops by attacking a house 200 yards away by exposing himself to enemy fire and directing fire at an enemy strong point. He assisted the unit on his right by firing his automatic rifle, killing or wounding two enemy snipers.

“On Oct. 22, he and fellow soldier took up an outpost security position about 50 yards to the right front of their platoon, concealed themselves, and ambushed an 18-man, heavily armed enemy patrol, killing two, wounding one, and taking the rest as prisoners.

“Edward Yamasaki, president of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team’s I Company chapter, in his book —  “And Then There Were Eight” — noted that I Company started the battle with 140 riflemen. “Then there only eight soldiers standing at the end.” …To Read more Click HERE.

Medal of Honor Citation:
Private Barney F. Hajiro distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 19, 22, and 29 October 1944, in the vicinity of Bruyeres and Biffontaine, eastern France. Private Hajiro, while acting as a sentry on top of an embankment on 19 October 1944, in the vicinity of Bruyeres, France, rendered assistance to allied troops attacking a house 200 yards away by exposing himself to enemy fire and directing fire at an enemy strong point. He assisted the unit on his right by firing his automatic rifle and killing or wounding two enemy snipers. On 22 October 1944, he and one comrade took up an outpost security position about 50 yards to the right front of their platoon, concealed themselves, and ambushed an 18-man, heavily armed, enemy patrol, killing two, wounding one, and taking the remainder as prisoners. On 29 October 1944, in a wooded area in the vicinity of Biffontaine, France, Private Hajiro initiated an attack up the slope of a hill referred to as “Suicide Hill” by running forward approximately 100 yards under fire. He then advanced ahead of his comrades about 10 yards, drawing fire and spotting camouflaged machine gun nests. He fearlessly met fire with fire and single-handedly destroyed two machine gun nests and killed two enemy snipers. As a result of Private Hajiro’s heroic actions, the attack was successful. Private Hajiro’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon him, his unit, and the United States Army.

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