52 years ago today first living African American since the Spanish American War earns his Medal of Honor

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52 years ago today first living African American since the Spanish American War earns his Medal of Honor

I usually end with the citation, but today I will start with it, because it turns out there is more information than I usually have on these things:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. SP6 [Lawrence] Joel demonstrated indomitable courage, determination, and professional skill when a numerically superior and well-concealed Viet Cong element launched a vicious attack which wounded or killed nearly every man in the lead squad of the company. After treating the men wounded by the initial burst of gunfire, he bravely moved forward to assist others who were wounded while proceeding to their objective. While moving from man to man, he was struck in the right leg by machine gun fire. Although painfully wounded his desire to aid his fellow soldiers transcended all personal feeling. He bandaged his own wound and self-administered morphine to deaden the pain enabling him to continue his dangerous undertaking. Through this period of time, he constantly shouted words of encouragement to all around him. Then, completely ignoring the warnings of others, and his pain, he continued his search for wounded, exposing himself to hostile fire; and, as bullets dug up the dirt around him, he held plasma bottles high while kneeling completely engrossed in his life saving mission. Then, after being struck a second time and with a bullet lodged in his thigh, he dragged himself over the battlefield and succeeded in treating 13 more men before his medical supplies ran out. Displaying resourcefulness, he saved the life of one man by placing a plastic bag over a severe chest wound to congeal the blood. As 1 of the platoons pursued the Viet Cong, an insurgent force in concealed positions opened fire on the platoon and wounded many more soldiers. With a new stock of medical supplies, SP6 Joel again shouted words of encouragement as he crawled through an intense hail of gunfire to the wounded men. After the 24-hour battle subsided and the Viet Cong dead numbered 410, snipers continued to harass the company. Throughout the long battle, SP6 Joel never lost sight of his mission as a medical aidman and continued to comfort and treat the wounded until his own evacuation was ordered. His meticulous attention to duty saved a large number of lives and his unselfish, daring example under most adverse conditions was an inspiration to all. SP6 Joel's profound concern for his fellow soldiers, at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.

Sergeant First Class Joel (who retired in 1973) had actually fought in Korea as well, and had earned a Silver Star in addition to his Medal of Honor.  He passed away in 1983 from complications of diabetes and is interred in Arlington Cemetery adjacent to the Memorial Amphitheater.  (Section 46 if you wish to go visit.)

While I couldn’t find video of the ceremony at first glance (more on that later) I did find a Youtube that had audio of President Johnson awarding it:

Interestingly, another African American, Milton Lee Olive III (also of the 173rd Airborne) was klled October 22nd of 1965, and was awarded the Medal of Honor after jumping on a grenade.

So, for the “rest of the story” let me admit up front I don’t listen to Country music, and had never heard of “Big and Rich” before, but everyone is telling me that they are a great band, great people, and draw big crowds.  (One interesting thing I found out about them though was that they played in Vegas before that lunatic starting shooting up the crowd, and an off duty Minneapolis Police officer came into the bar they were drinking at and asked if anyone had a gun.  Apparently John Rich handed him his pistol and the police officer took up a position at the door to protect people.

Anyway, Big and Rich have a song “8th of November” about that day, and a friend of theirs whose life was saved by Joel’s heroics.  They even have a tribute to Joel on the music video, narrated by Kris Kristofferson (who himself served in the Army and earned a Ranger Tab).  Although the song itself is more about their friend, Niles Harris, the prelude talks about SFC Joel:

They also made a longer documentary which is pretty interesting if you have the time, as it shows some actual footage, the location in Vietnam and more:

So, if you are of a mind to do so today, tip one to Lawrence Joel, Niles Harris and the men The Herd lost that day.  Glad I noticed this on the calendar for this day in history, because heroism like this should ALWAYS be remembered, and kudos to Big and Rich for reaching a larger audience than would normally be the case.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.