BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D. Son of a career Air Force officer, Brian Miles Thacker graduated from Utah’s Weber State College and was commissioned in the Army through the ROTC program. Thacker joined the Army in 1969 at Salt Lake City, Utah. It took less than two years for Thacker to reach the rank of First Lieutenant. The war in Vietnam was going through First and Second Lieutenants at a rapid rate.
After a tour in Germany, where he says he was “allowed to make a lot of second lieutenant mistakes”, he was transferred to Vietnam in the fall of 1970.
In the early part of 1971 Thacker was in charge of a six man team that was operating on a hilltop in Kontum Province. Their mission was to support ARVN artillery that was firing on North Vietnamese units in the valley below the hill.
In the early morning of March 31, the North Vietnamese began a coordinated attack along a sixty-mile front, and Thacker’s position came under heavy enemy fire. Thacker was sleeping when he was jarred awake by the sounds of the heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, satchel charges, mortars, and recoilless rifles. In a very short time the North Vietnamese penetrated the perimeter; three of Thacker’s five men were killed as the American and ARVN force retreated from bunker to bunker in hand-to-hand fighting throughout the morning and early afternoon. Calling in air support, Thacker rallied his forces to hold on against the superior North Vietnamese.
The first U.S. helicopter that came to Thacker’s aid was shot down. Its crew climbed out of their wrecked helicopter and joined what was left of Thacker’s team. A second helicopter soon followed the fate of the first one. It became clear to Thacker that his team was fighting a losing battle and would need to evacuate their position.
Thacker, giving no thought for himself, remained behind and fought and covered the withdrawal of what was left of his team. The nearest extraction point was another fire base six miles away along the ridgeline. Thacker organized the withdrawal of the remaining friendly force, staying behind to provide covering fire before joining his comrades. He called in U.S. artillery on his own position in a desperate effort to keep the enemy at bay, but in the ensuing chaos, he became cut off. Thacker found himself alone. Finally, exhausted and wounded, he moved into a nearby bamboo thicket. He was constantly on the move to avoid the around the clock enemy patrols. It was not until Fire Base 6 was recaptured by friendly forces that he left the cover of the bamboo thicket and received care for his wounds.
Two years later in 1973, Brian Thacker was awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor, selfless service and leadership.
Medal of Honor
Awarded for actions during the Vietnam War
The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to First Lieutenant (Field Artillery) Brian Miles Thacker, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 1st Battalion, 92d Artillery, in action against enemy aggressor forces in Kontum Province, Republic of Vietnam, on 31 March 1971. First Lieutenant Thacker, Field Artillery, Battery A, distinguished himself while serving as the team leader of an Integrated Observation System collocated with elements of two Army of the Republic of Vietnam units at Fire Base 6. A numerically superior North Vietnamese Army force launched a well-planned, dawn attack on the small, isolated, hilltop fire base. Employing rockets, grenades, flame-throwers, and automatic weapons, the enemy forces penetrated the perimeter defenses and engaged the defenders in hand-to-hand combat. Throughout the morning and early afternoon, First Lieutenant Thacker rallied and encouraged the U.S. and Republic of Vietnam soldiers in heroic efforts to repulse the enemy. He occupied a dangerously exposed observation position for a period of four hours while directing friendly air strikes and artillery fire against the assaulting enemy forces. His personal bravery and inspired leadership enabled the outnumbered friendly forces to inflict a maximum of casualties on the attacking enemy forces and prevented the base from being overrun. By late afternoon, the situation had become untenable. First Lieutenant Thacker organized and directed the withdrawal of the remaining friendly forces. With complete disregard for his personal safety, he remained inside the perimeter alone to provide covering fire with his M-16 rifle until all other friendly forces had escaped from the besieged fire base. Then, in an act of supreme courage, he called for friendly artillery fire on his own position to allow his comrades more time to withdraw safely from the area and, at the same time, inflict even greater casualties on the enemy forces. Although wounded and unable to escape from the area himself, he successfully eluded the enemy forces for eight days until friendly forces regained control of the fire base. The extraordinary courage and selflessness displayed by First Lieutenant Thacker were an inspiration to his comrades and are in the highest traditions of the military service.
General Orders: Department of the Army, General Orders No. 42 (November 5, 1973)
Action Date: March 31, 1971
Rank: First Lieutenant
Company: Battery A
Battalion: 1st Battalion
Regiment: 92d Artillery
The information in this article was sourced from a variety of sources both internal and external. Every effort was made to ensure that the information is current and correct. These articles are presented to honor the heroes they are written about.