The greatness of a human being is not measured by his bank account, or in his fame, or by the amount of power and authority one might possess. Such things are often fickle, transient and finite in the end. Rather, real greatness is measured by the transcendent qualities of one’s character, things like humility, one’s capacity to act in service to others in the face of extreme, life threatening situations, or difficult times.
You will meet such a man here in this video.
His name is James McCloughan and he lives in South Haven, Michigan. Fifty years ago, he was Spc. 5 James McCloughan serving in the United States Army’s C Co., 3rd Bn., 21st Infantry Regiment. Between May 13-15, 1969, he and 89 other men of his unit were in a battle for their lives at a place called Nui Yon Hill neat the village of Tam Ky. They were under extremely heavy small arms and machine gun fire from a North Vietnamese battalion.
During the battle two helicopters were downed over the nearby landing zone (LZ), one of them crashing about a hundred yards from his C Company position. Rescue helicopters could not get in to evacuate the pilot and crew so McCloughan’s squad was charged with rescuing the downed pilot and crew. McCloughan, a combat medic, saw a wounded soldier sprawled on the ground and ran over the open space to him between the intense fire of both his own unit and the NVA forces. McCloughan put the man over his shoulder and ran back again through the heavy fire to his unit.
Later in the day his platoon was ambushed by a larger NVA force and suffered heavy casualties. While friendly air support was raking the NVA, McCloughan went down the side of Nui Yon Hill to a trench where he found two unarmed American soldiers. He handed one of them his rifle and went over the edge of the berm to get to two wounded Army soldiers. He was able to pull them back to the trench despite the fact that he himself had been wounded by shrapnel from an RPG grenade.
Ignoring orders to stay in the trench, McCloughan continued to go out and rescue more wounded soldiers from the kill zone. He did this four more times during the NVA assault on his platoon’s position. Though he was bleeding heavily, he treated the wounded, preparing them for evacuation and refused to be medically evacuated. He did all of this even knowing that the NVA far outnumbered them.
On the next day, May 14, the unit’s other medic was killed in action leaving McCloughan as the only remaining medic. He was wounded a second time by small arms fire and shrapnel from another RPG while treating two wounded soldiers in an open rice paddy.
Toward the end of the ongoing battle, two NVA companies and 700 VC troops attacked C Company’s position from three sides. Completely disregarding his own safety he went out under fire several times to get and to treat wounded comrades, fighting the enemy with his own weapon as he went out and back each time. When his supplies had run low, he volunteered to hold a blinking light in an exposed position to give the night time resupply helicopters find the LZ, even though enemy fire continued all around him.
Just before dawn on the 15th of May, McCloughan tossed a grenade at the RPG position that had been causing them so much damage and disabled it. He continued on from there to eliminate more enemy and continued to care for his own wounded. That night he kept two critically wounded soldiers alive and organized the dead and wounded for evacuation the next morning.
McCloughan was credited with saving 10 soldiers over the three days of the battle and was awarded two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star with “V” device for his actions over those three days. In 2015 a group of his battle buddies started a campaign to have that Bronze Star upgraded. The Army upgraded his award to a Medal of Honor in 2017 and he received the award from President Barack Obama at the White House.
The second video you will see here was done by a local Michigan TV station on his return from the Medal of Honor Award Ceremony at the White House.
The Veterans Site adds its congratulations to James McCloughan for the courage he displayed under fire and his dedication to his men during that three day battle near Nui Yon Hill in May of 1969 in Vietnam. We cannot thank you enough. Welcome Home! Hooah!
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.