Army medic James McCloughan will be the first veteran to be presented the Medal of Honor by President Donald J. Trump.
The 71-year-old from South Haven, Michigan, is credited with saving the lives of more than ten men during the ferocious Battle of Nui Yon Hill in 1969, that lasted several days.
Then a 23-year-old private first class who was drafted a year earlier after earning a degree in sociology from Olivet College, found himself in Vietnam, repeatedly entering the “kill zone” to rescue wounded comrades.
PFC McCloughan “voluntarily risked his life on nine separate occasions to rescue wounded and disoriented comrades,” the White House said in an emailed statement Tuesday. “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.”
At one point he was hit with shrapnel from a Rocket Propelled Grenade while treating a couple of wounded soldiers. He was covered in so much blood that a Captain thought he should get out on a medivac himself, but that was not going to happen.
PFC McCloughan stuck around until the battle was over, fighting and rendering medical aid when necessary to wounded soldiers. He even managed to knock out an enemy RPG position with a grenade.
He refers to the battle as “the worst two days of my life.”
The Medal of Honor is awarded to members of the Armed Forces who distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry above and beyond the call of duty while: engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States; engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.
PFC McCloughan accumulated quite a few well deserved awards and commendations for his actions in Vietnam, like two Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts, from having been shot in the arm in addition to taking the RPG shrapnel, the U. S. Army Valorous Unit Citation, the Combat Medical Badge, and the National Defense Medal.
McCloughan left the Army in 1970, and for the next four decades he taught psychology and sociology and coached football, baseball and wrestling at South Haven High School before retiring in 2008.
It was Secretary of Defense Ash Carter who recommended McCloughan for the Medal of Honor last year. The award is supposed to be presented within five years of the heroic actions. Unfortunately, due to the chaos that surrounds a nation when engaged in large scale combat, and with uncommon valor being so common among the brave men and women who serve this nation, the actions of some do not become known, or get recognized until years later.
I was no fan of Ash Carter, in fact I think he did far more hard to this nations military readiness than anyone in history, but to bring this brave warriors actions to the forefront and recognize his heroic actions, is something I have to commend him for doing.
There was a problem, however: The medal needs to be awarded within five years of the recipient’s heroic actions. But Congress can waive the time limit, which is what happened in McCloughan’s case.
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow reached McCloughan on his cellphone to deliver the news while he and his wife, Cherie, were eating at an IHOP in Colorado. The McCloughans burst into tears at the conclusion of the call. James McCloughan said he told their server what was going on, because “I didn’t want her to think we were fighting or something.”
President Barack Obama signed legislation in late 2016 that allowed for the time-limit waiver in McCloughan’s case, paving the way for him to receive the medal. But it didn’t happen before Obama left office in January, meaning it now falls to Trump to do the honors.