Sometimes a person is forced into the role of leadership because of difficult circumstances. This sometimes happens in the most trying of conditions, as in this case, in the heat of battle.
This is what happened to now retired 1st Sgt. John J. Lord 50 years ago on July 28, 1968, when his company came under a fierce and intense ambush while on patrol in the I Corps area of South Vietnam.
Marines, as you well know, are trained in all aspects of war fighting. One of the most dangerous and demanding situations in war fighting is an ambush. The most powerful reality of an ambush is the element of surprise.
One minute you are moving through the terrain in silence, watching and listening for movement around you, then, without warning, all hell breaks loose.
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Ambushes, by definition, come out of nowhere. All of a sudden you find yourself in a hell of noise, buzzing bullets, and terror. Marines are taught that the most effective response to an ambush is to charge right into it with all weapons firing on full automatic. This turns the surprise around on the attacker.
On July 28, 1968, then Sgt. Lord was patrolling with his platoon from Kilo Co. 3rd Bn. 7th Marines, when they suddenly came under fire from machine guns and small arms. They had been ambushed by a battalion of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops. Almost immediately, his commanding officer and all other senior NCOs had been wounded.
Lord, suddenly, found himself in charge of the platoon.
According to his Bronze Star award citation, “Lord unhesitatingly maneuvered across the fire-swept terrain and skillfully deployed the platoon against the enemy.” It speaks about how he, on multiple occasions, exposed himself to enemy fire to rescue his fellow wounded Marines. He also located one of the remaining, still operative, radios and began directing air support against the NVA battalion.
The citation also indicates that his actions that day “turned the tide of battle” in the platoon’s favor.
As is indicated above, Lord was awarded a Bronze Star for his valor that day while still in Vietnam. But his former Company Commander, now retired Lt. Col. Michael Sweeney, felt that he deserved a higher award.
Lt. Col. Sweeney started a movement some years later to have that award upgraded to a Navy Cross, which is the Navy/Marine Corps second highest award for combat valor, under the Medal of Honor. The Secretary of the Navy approved that upgrade last year and now retired 1st Sgt. John J. Lord received that award at the 243rd Marine Corps Birthday Ball in Vancouver, Washington, last Nov. 10, 2018.
Six of his Marine brothers who were there in that battle with him that day were also in attendance.
This video was taken at that Marine Corps Birthday Ball last November. You will see 1st Sgt. Lord and hear from his six Marine Corps brothers in this video.
The Veterans Site ads its congratulations and sends its deepest respect to retired 1st Sgt. John J. Lord for his courage and commitment to his fellow Marines during that difficult day so long ago now. You, sir, have shown us the best nature of a Marine. Your fellow Marines are happy that your dedication and valor has been so recognized.
OooRah, Marine! Semper Fi!
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.