Spc. 5 James C. McCloughan speaks during his Medal of Honor Hall of Heroes induction ceremony at the Pentagon, Aug. 1, 2017. McCloughan distinguished himself during 48 hours of close combat against enemy forces in Vietnam, May 13-15, 1969. At the time, then-Pfc. McCloughan was serving as a combat medic with Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 196th Light Infantry Brigade. DoD photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Pentagon Enshrines Medal of Honor Soldier in Hall of Heroes
By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2017 — It was love that inspired then-Army Pfc. James C. McCloughan to perform acts of heroism in 1969 that were finally recognized by the award of the Medal of Honor at the White House yesterday and his induction into the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon today.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Acting Army Secretary Robert M. Speer, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey presided at the standing-room-only ceremony at the Pentagon enshrining McCloughan into the Hall of Heroes.
McCloughan said he is holding the award as a tribute to the 89 men who fought at the Battle of Nui Yon Hill in the Republic of South Vietnam on May 13-15, 1969. The Michigan native was a medic — the “Doc” — with Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, and he saved at least 10 lives under fire, while being wounded three times during the battle.
The medic rose to the rank of specialist 5 before he got out of the service and returned home to his home town in Michigan to be a teacher and coach. He spent more than 40 years imparting the lessons he learned during that battle and others to countless students.
McCloughan said the biggest lesson he learned from his experiences in Vietnam was the importance of the team.
“Life is not measured by the breaths that we take, but by the moments that take our breath away,” he said. “The men of Charlie Company did things that would take your breath away. They looked into the face of danger and death, and with backs to the wall we fought for each other until the enemy was beaten and went away.”
McCloughan said he has been a part of many groups that carry the label “team,” and the men of Charlie Company was the epitome of the concept. “When you hope and believe, when you have faith in God and each other, when you have love for someone or something bigger than yourself; anything can be accomplished,” the Doc said. “These men — my brothers — are living proof that faith, hope and love abide. But the greatest of these is love.”
It took 48 years for McCloughan to receive the Medal of Honor. After the battle, he was recommended for a Distinguished Service Cross, but that was downgraded to a Bronze Star with a Valor device. In 2009, the men of Charlie Company revived the push for McCloughan to receive the DSC, but then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter upgraded the action to the Medal of Honor. It was approved at the end of December and President Donald J. Trump presented the award to McCloughan during a White House ceremony yesterday.
“I tell you sir, that while this honor is long overdue, it comes in earnest,” Mattis said during the induction ceremony. “We are very, very honored to have you and your bride and your family here today. We stand in respect for you and your warrior brothers and your heroic sacrifices.”
During the battle, McCloughan repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to reach and treat his fellow soldiers, Mattis said. His company commander saw his wounds and ordered the medic to evacuate. His reply: “They are going to need me.”
The company was outnumbered 28 to one, Mattis said, and it was only due to the fighting qualities of the unit and the liberal application of air and artillery support that the company held off elements of two full companies of North Vietnamese regulars and about 2,000 Viet Cong for two full days.
At night, when supplies were running low, McCloughan volunteered to wear a strobe light on his helmet in an open field so helicopters could drop supplies to the beleaguered company, Mattis said. The strobe was beacon of hope for resupply, but it was also a magnet for enemy rounds and rocket-propelled grenades. The helicopters couldn’t make it: The landing zone was too hot.
“He saved the lives of 10 members of his company on those days, but he touched 10,000 lives over the next 40 years in the classroom and on the athletic fields,” Mattis said. “To the boys of Charlie Company: Thank you. Jim held the beacon for you that night in 1969. Today he is the beacon and we are humbled and honored in holding him high — a guide to others to keep their soles clean and always do the best they can and also serve each other.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)