James McCloughan honored for bravery almost five decades after Vietnamese battle
Even with a huge gash on his back from shrapnel, and in the heat of battle, Army medic James McCloughan kept responding to calls for help from wounded soldiers.
That was almost 50 years ago, during the battle of Nui Yon Hill, near the city of Tam Kỳ in Vietnam.
On Monday, President Donald J. Trump awarded McCloughan the Medal of Honor during a White House ceremony.
McCloughan was one of 89 soldiers in Company C, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 196th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division, who fought on Nui Yon Hill from May 13 to 15, 1969.
Within minutes of landing there on May 13, about 2,000 enemy soldiers surrounded them, and two of their helicopters were shot down. One soldier was badly wounded in the middle of an open field.
“Jim did not hesitate,” Trump said. “He blazed through 100 meters of enemy fire to carry the soldier to safety.”
As the Army News Service relates:
After tending to that soldier, McCloughan joined a mission to advance toward the enemy, Trump said. But before long, they were ambushed. Again, he ran into danger to rescue his wounded men.
As he cared for two soldiers, shrapnel from an enemy rocket-propelled grenade “slashed open the back of Jim’s body from head to foot,” Trump related. “Yet, that terrible wound didn’t stop Jim from pulling those two men to safety, nor did it stop him from answering the plea of another wounded comrade and carrying him to safety atop his own badly injured body. And so it went, shot after shot, blast upon blast.”
“As one of his comrades recalled: ‘Whoever called ‘Medic!’ could immediately count on McCloughan. He’s a brave guy,'” the president said.
That evening, soldiers went into their defensive position, but one didn’t make it back, and McCloughan could not ignore his pleas for help, the president related. Again, “Doc,” as his fellow soldiers called him, did not hesitate, Trump said. “He crawled through a rice paddy thick with steel rain — that means bullets all over the place — and as soldiers watched him, they were sure that was the last time they would see Doc. They thought that was the end of their friend Jim.” But after several minutes, McCloughan emerged from the smoke and fire, carrying yet another soldier, the president said. As McCloughan was carrying the wounded to be medevac’d, his lieutenant ordered him to get in too. “Get in. Get in,” Trump said, conveying the lieutenant’s orders. But McCloughan refused, saying “you’re going to need me here.” McCloughan would later say, “I’d rather die on the battlefield than know that men died because they did not have a medic,” Trump related. Over the next 24 hours without food, water or rest, McCloughan fired at enemy soldiers, suffered a bullet wound to his arm, and continued to race into gunfire to save more and more lives, the president said.
In all, McCloughan rescued 10 American soldiers.
At one point, McCloughan thought about his father and realized he had not told him “I love you” since he was a boy. McCloughan prayed to God: “If you get me out of this hell on earth so I can tell my dad I love him, then I’ll be the best coach and father you ever asked for.”
“As he prayed, a great peace came over him,” President Trump related. He survived, and he was able to make it home to tell his father how much he loved him.
The president added that McCloughan kept the other part of his promise to God as well, coaching high school sports to the best of his ability for the next 38 years.
McCloughan was joined at the White House ceremony by members of his family and 10 soldiers who served with him during that epic battle, five of whom he had personally saved.
NPR spoke with one of the men McCloughan saved:
Bill Arnold, then 20, was one of the soldiers running back then, and he couldn’t keep up. Hours before he injured his knee rolling off a helicopter. His run was reduced to a limp, and then to a crawl. Finally, he collapsed. Arnold described being in a “haze” or a “blur” when he saw McCloughan running toward him. “Basically you first want to say, ‘What the Hell is wrong with this guy,'” he recounted. “He’s heading toward the enemy and I’m trying to get out of there.”