U.S. Army Veteran James C. McCloughan Is Awarded the Medal of Honor
On July 31, 2017, United States Army veteran James C. McCloughan was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Donald J. Trump in a ceremony at the White House. This marked the first time that Trump presented the U.S. Military’s highest decoration for valor in combat. With his family, former comrades, and fellow Medal of Honor recipients on hand, the moment belonged to Specialist Five James McCloughan.
During the Medal of Honor ceremony, McCloughan salutes the Vietnam veterans that he served with in 1969. (Photo: U.S. Army)
McCloughan was 23 years old at the time of the action that earned him the Medal of Honor. On May 13-15, 1969, he was serving as a combat medic with Company C, 3rd Batallion, 21st Infantry, 196th Light Infantry brigade, Americal Division, in the Republic of Vietnam.
McCloughan explaining why he was recruited as a combat medic. (Video: U.S. Army)
During 48 hours of intense close combat fighting against enemy forces, McCloughan voluntarily risked his life on nine separate occasions to save wounded and stranded comrades. He is credited with saving the lives of 10 brothers-in-arms.
A photo of McCloughan with a dog while on patrol in Vietnam. (Photo: U.S. Army)
On the morning of May 13, 1969, McCloughan and his unit were flown to Tam Ky, a city positioned along Vietnam’s central coast. As they arrived, American forces came under heavy enemy fire and two U.S. helicopters were shot down. In an interview with the Army, McCloughan recalled, “The minute that we got there, we were fired upon.”
McCloughan recalls landing under heavy fire. (Video: U.S. Army)
According to the Army, one of the helicopters crashed 100 meters from the company’s position. McCloughan was part of a squad sent to investigate the crash site. Once they reached the perimeter, they spotted a wounded soldier that was lying on the ground and too injured to move. McCloughan’s squad mates provided covering fire so that he could reach the wounded man. The Army writes that, “McCloughan ran 100 meters to the soldier through an open field, ducking and dodging the crossfire of his company and a charging platoon of North Vietnamese Army.” After hoisting the man onto his shoulder, McCloughan managed to bring him back to safety.
Later in the engagement, McCloughan’s platoon was ambushed by a large North Vietnamese force and sustained heavy casualties. As American airstrikes were being dropped, McCloughan entered a trench and noticed two soldiers without weapons in the distance. He handed his weapon to a fellow soldier and while heading toward the enemy, reached the two U.S. soldiers. As McCloughan checked the men for injuries, “a rocket propelled grenade exploded and pelted him with shrapnel.” Despite his injuries, he was able to drag the two soldiers back to safety. The Army writes further, “McCloughan ignored a direct order to stay back and braved an enemy assault, moving into the kill zone on four more occasions to extract wounded comrades.”
A map of the operation on May 13, 1969. (Photo: U.S. Army)
May 14 proved to be just as difficult of a day. After moving through a trench and spotting the enemy, a firefight erupted. The medic from 1st platoon, Daniel J. Shea was killed while attempting to carry a wounded soldier to safety. Shea was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
Daniel J. Shea. (Photo: en.wikipedia.org)
When Shea went down, that left McCloughan as the sole medical specialist of the company. McCloughan recalled that once he recognized this responsibility, "I downed my pack, near a tree, and got all of my pressure bandages out of there and put them in all of the pockets that I had. ... And now I start going to get men." As the battle raged on, McCloughan was wounded a second time from small arms fire and shrapnel from an RPG. This happened as he was giving aid to two soldiers in an open rice paddy.
McCloughan talking about when he was left as the sole medical specialist of the company. (Video: U.S. Army)
The U.S. Army writes, "In the final phase of the attack, two companies from the NVA and an element of 700 soldiers from a Viet Cong regiment descended upon Company C's position on three sides." As the Americans battled for survival, McCloughan entered the crossfire numerous times to bring wounded soldiers back to safety. Through all of this, he was also fighting the enemy.
A map of the action that took place on May 14, 1969. (Photo: U.S. Army)
One of the soldiers that McCloughan encountered had been shot in the stomach. With this severe injury, McCloughan was unable to carry the soldier like he normally would in a fireman's carry. Thinking quick on his feet, McCloughan said, "I picked him up like you would a baby, and carried him into a trench." While carrying the soldier, McCloughan explained that he had a heart-to-heart conversation with God. He recalled, "I bargained with him that if he allowed me to live, I'd become the best coach and teacher and dad that I could be and I also promised that I'd hug my dad and tell him I love him." Since that time, McCloughan never forgot to honor his promise.
McCloughan as a coach with his two sons at South Haven High School in 1988. (Photo: U.S. Army)
By the night of May 14, American troops were running low on ammunition and other important supplies. In response to this, the Army writes that McCloughan, "volunteered to hold a blinking light in an open area as a marker for a nighttime supply drop." He performed this action while his body was exposed to persistent enemy fire.
May 15 was the final day of this ordeal. McCloughan managed to take out an enemy RPG position with a grenade. He continued to fight the enemy while also fulfilling his duty as a medic. McCloughan's dedication kept two critically wounded soldiers alive through the night. By the afternoon, he was helping to gather the dead and wounded for evacuation. McCloughan is credited with saving the lives of ten fellow soldiers.
It is estimated that by the time the fighting ended on May 15, the size of McCloughan's company had dropped to 32 men. President Trump acknowledged this during the Medal of Honor ceremony and said to McCloughan, "I know I speak for everyone here when I say we are in awe of your actions and your bravery."
President Trump presenting the Medal of Honor to James McCloughan. (Photo: The White House)
After his combat tour ended in 1970, McCloughan returned home to South Haven, Michigan. He became a teacher and taught sociology at South Haven High School until he retired in 2008. He coached football and baseball for 38 years. In addition, McCloughan coached wrestling for 22 years.
James C. McCloughan is a remarkable man with a truly remarkable story. Now he is one of the rare few to have received the the Medal of Honor.