March 25th, Medal of Honor Day

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March 25th, Medal of Honor Day

[Editor's Note: This is a reposting of my blog from 2 years ago.]

Over the years I've gotten to do a lot of cool things here at the Legion as our sort of War Reporter, I got to go to Afghanistan, Senegal, the Arctic Circle, the Grand Canyon, Gitmo, and a ton of places domestically.  And I've made some wonderful friends.

But my best trip was a horseback excursion in 2011, where my best friend and I went with 2 paratroopers, 2 SEALs, and a Marine on a horse trip through Montana.  The four of us Army guys bunked together in camp, and the SEALs and the Marine had their own tent.  We would stay up late everynight drinking and sitting around the campfire, and just telling stories.  My stomach hurt from just days of nonstop laughing.

The two paratroopers and I became close friends, especially Ryan, who I bonded with over our shared love of the Patriots, him being from New Hampshire and me from Massachusetts (by way of Maine.)  The one thing we didn't really discuss was what we did in the military.  I knew he'd been a forward observer, and I knew he'd been at the battle of Wanat, but it wasn't until 3 years later (on my birthday) that I understood more about what he'd done there, because I was present at his Medal of Honor ceremony.

Whenever I do these mass MOH stories I always start with Ryan, because he's my friend, and to this day we text back and forth, although it tends to peak on Sundays between September and February when our team takes the field.  But on our week in Montana I knew he was all class, and later I would find out the level to which he was. 

So today, on MOH Day I will start with Ryan.  For what it is worth, the other paratrooper on the trip was Mike Denton, who is also featured in the video, and bar none the funniest dude I've ever met.

The best part of Ryan isn't his tenacious fighting spirit though, it's just how unerringly kind he is:

Ryan's MOH:

Sergeant Ryan M. Pitts distinguished himself by extraordinary acts of heroism at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Forward Observer in 2d Platoon, Chosen Company, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, 173d Airborne Brigade, during combat operations against an armed enemy at Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler in the vicinity of Wanat Village, Kunar Province, Afghanistan on July 13, 2008.

Early that morning, while Sergeant Pitts was providing perimeter security at Observation Post Topside, a well-organized Anti-Afghan Force consisting of over 200 members initiated a close proximity sustained and complex assault using accurate and intense rocket-propelled grenade, machine gun and small arms fire on Wanat Vehicle Patrol Base. An immediate wave of rocket-propelled grenade rounds engulfed the Observation Post wounding Sergeant Pitts and inflicting heavy casualties. Sergeant Pitts had been knocked to the ground and was bleeding heavily from shrapnel wounds to his arm and legs, but with incredible toughness and resolve, he subsequently took control of the Observation Post and returned fire on the enemy.

As the enemy drew nearer, Sergeant Pitts threw grenades, holding them after the pin was pulled and the safety lever was released to allow a nearly immediate detonation on the hostile forces. Unable to stand on his own and near death because of the severity of his wounds and blood loss, Sergeant Pitts continued to lay suppressive fire until a two-man reinforcement team arrived. Sergeant Pitts quickly assisted them by giving up his main weapon and gathering ammunition all while continually lobbing fragmentary grenades until these were expended.

At this point, Sergeant Pitts crawled to the northern position radio and described the situation to the Command Post as the enemy continued to try and isolate the Observation Post from the main Patrol Base. With the enemy close enough for him to hear their voices, and with total disregard for his own life, Sergeant Pitts whispered in radio situation reports and conveyed information that the Command Post used to provide indirect fire support.

Sergeant Pitts' courage, steadfast commitment to the defense of his unit and ability to fight while seriously wounded prevented the enemy from overrunning the Observation Post and capturing fallen American soldiers, and ultimately prevented the enemy from gaining fortified positions on higher ground from which to attack Wanat Vehicle Patrol Base. Sergeant Ryan M. Pitts' extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Company C, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, 173d Airborne Brigade and the United States Army.

And, for what it is worth, his wife Amy is probably even cooler than he is (and also a Pats fan), and I've been lucky to meet her a few times and share some Facebook time with.  If you want to read the full story I wrote about Ryan, I consider it my favorite article I've written.

I've been lucky enough to become friends with Sal Giunta too, a fellow Medal of Honor recipient from the 173rd.  If you ever get a chance to go golfing with him, or enjoy the 19th hole with him, DO IT.  He's a phenomenal golfer, and the man talks nonstop, and everything he says is a gem.  

Sal's MOH:

Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, on October 25, 2007. While conducting a patrol as team leader with Company B, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, Specialist Giunta and his team were navigating through harsh terrain when they were ambushed by a well-armed and well-coordinated insurgent force. While under heavy enemy fire, Specialist Giunta immediately sprinted towards cover and engaged the enemy. Seeing that his squad leader had fallen and believing that he had been injured, Specialist Giunta exposed himself to withering enemy fire and raced towards his squad leader, helped him to cover, and administered medical aid. While administering first aid, enemy fire struck Specialist Giunta’s body armor and his secondary weapon. Without regard to the ongoing fire, Specialist Giunta engaged the enemy before prepping and throwing grenades, using the explosions for cover in order to conceal his position. Attempting to reach additional wounded fellow soldiers who were separated from the squad, Specialist Giunta and his team encountered a barrage of enemy fire that forced them to the ground. The team continued forward and upon reaching the wounded soldiers, Specialist Giunta realized that another soldier was still separated from the element. Specialist Giunta then advanced forward on his own initiative. As he crested the top of a hill, he observed two insurgents carrying away an American soldier. He immediately engaged the enemy, killing one and wounding the other. Upon reaching the wounded soldier, he began to provide medical aid, as his squad caught up and provided security. Specialist Giunta’s unwavering courage, selflessness, and decisive leadership while under extreme enemy fire were integral to his platoon’s ability to defeat an enemy ambush and recover a fellow American soldier from the enemy. Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Company B, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, and the United States Army.

I've also had the pleasure of playing golf with Kyle White (the third 173rd recipient of the MOH from Afghanistan) and if all goes according to plan I get to play with Florence Groberg later this year as well.  Here's Flo's story:

But, It's Medal of Honor Day, and thus I'll add some I've met from other wars, and then link to where you can find all of them.  But I would be remiss if I didn't include Clint Romesha as well, since I wrote an article for The American Legion Magazine on him as well:

You can read more about Clint in the article I wrote about COP Keating.

When I met my wife she was the USO greeter at the Dallas Fort Worth Airport, and she told me she was in love with a veteran.  Luckily for me, she was fighting with her best friends over who could officially be his boyfriend.  And that was one of our own, a Legionnaire from West Virginia, Herschel Woody Williams.  I've never once seen Woody without a smile, so it's hard sometimes to imagine this diminutive, kind man, and the absolute killing machine he is with a flame thrower.  First, his MOH, then the video:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Demolition Sergeant serving with the First Battalion, Twenty-First Marines, Third Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Island, 23 February 1945. Quick to volunteer his services when our tanks were maneuvering vainly to open a lane for the infantry through the network of reinforced concrete pillboxes, buried mines and black, volcanic sands, Corporal Williams daringly went forward alone to attempt the reduction of devastating machine-gun fire from the unyielding positions. Covered only by four riflemen, he fought desperately for four hours under terrific enemy small-arms fire and repeatedly returned to his own lines to prepare demolition charges and obtain serviced flame throwers, struggling back, frequently to the rear of hostile emplacements, to wipe out one position after another. On one occasion he daringly mounted a pillbox to insert the nozzle of his flame thrower through the air vent, kill the occupants and silence the gun; on another he grimly charged enemy riflemen who attempted to stop him with bayonets and destroyed them with a burst of flame from his weapon. His unyielding determination and extraordinary heroism in the face of ruthless enemy resistance were directly instrumental in neutralizing one of the most fanatically defended Japanese strong points encountered by his regiment and aided in enabling his company to reach its' [sic] objective. Corporal Williams' aggressive fighting spirit and valiant devotion to duty throughout this fiercely contested action sustain and enhance the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Another Active Legionnaire from the Department of Michigan, James McCloughan, finally received his Medal in 2017, for actions done in May of 1969:

You can read the full article from The American Legion magazine on McCloughan here.

And while this post is already getting excessively long, I wanted to include one more, because I met this gentleman, another Legionnaire named Gary Beikirch in Texas a few years ago, and frankly it is the only time I heard a speech that brought actual tears to my eyes, and led to weeks of introspection on my part:

I can not overstate this enough: If you haven't watched the Medal of Honor videos that The American Legion has done, all helpfully compiled HERE, you should do so.

We set aside the 25th of March to remember these men and their heroic actions, take some time and get to know them if you haven't already.

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To All Veterans who gave their lives to protect their comrades from the enemy. I salute you. From a VETERAN OF THE VIETNAM WAR AND THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE.

I received this medal. Can someone find the date of this day?

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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.