3 Days Of Bravery: Neglecting His Own Wounds, 'Doc' Saved 10 Soldiers
President Trump awarded the Medal of Honor to an Army medic on Monday afternoon at the White House, nearly 50 years after his heroic actions during the Vietnam War.
Over three days of bravery, Jim McCloughan ran toward enemy fire numerous times to save his fellow soldiers, even though he was wounded himself.
At the ceremony, the president called McCloughan a "hero" and "a veteran who went above and beyond the call of duty."
"He would not flinch in the face of sure death and definite danger," Trump said.
Soldiers from Charlie Company were running for their lives that May morning in 1969. Tripping over themselves in a rice paddy south of the coastal city of Da Nang. Heavy fire was coming from the treeline behind them. AK-47s. Machine guns.
"I'd rather die on the battlefield than have heard later on that one of my men did not make it because their medic was not there," McCloughan once said.
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."
McCloughan, then 23, had arrived in Vietnam just a couple of months earlier. A college athlete from Michigan, he was known as "Doc" — easygoing with a ready joke.
"He threw me up over his shoulder and he said, 'Get ready for a bumpy ride,'" Arnold remembers. "We were under fire. He was running. He done above and beyond what he needed to do."
That was the first of McCloughan's heroic actions. Over the next two days, he'd be credited with saving nine more soldiers.
These soldiers from Charlie Company, Third Battalion, Twenty First Infantry had been sent to help clear North Vietnamese soldiers from the area. Push them into the hills. Before long it was Charlie Company being pushed — from three sides by a constant barrage.
On that second night, a bullet tore into Kent Nielson's shoulder. Doc McCloughan placed gauze on his wounds, all while under fire.
Nielson and the others say it was only the arrival of American airpower that saved them, prevented them from being annihilated. Fire from a Spooky gunship finally pushed back the enemy troops.
When it was over there were 12 dead from Charlie Company. And some three dozen wounded.
Doc McCloughan received a Bronze Star with valor device for his heroics on that first day. The other two days were not taken into account. But over the decades, McCloughan's uncle and his fellow soldiers wrote letters on his behalf to upgrade the award, an effort also taken up by Michigan lawmakers. And finally after long consideration it was endorsed by the Army.
Bill Arnold says the Medal of Honor is long overdue. Ten of the men who fought alongside McCloughan, including five he saved, attended Monday's White House ceremony.
"There is nobody I can think of who's more honorable, more deserving of this award than Doc," he said.
For his part, Doc McCloughan sees himself as more a caretaker of the medal. He says it's really an award for all 89 soldiers who lived and died during the battle. It was a team, he says, with each soldier playing a critical part.
"And I've never known it any stronger than I knew after that battle how important each man was to the other," McCloughan said.
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.