BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D. Born in Petaluma, California, Richard Allen Penry joined the Army from Oakland, California, and by January 31, 1970 was serving as a Sergeant in Company C, 4th Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 199th Infantry Brigade.
On that day, in Binh Tuy Province of the Republic of Vietnam, his unit came under an intense enemy attack. After the company commander was wounded, Penry helped organize the defense of the area and repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to retrieve supplies. As Sergeant Penry’s platoon was preparing an ambush, it came under intense fire. Penry worked his way through enemy fire to the command post where he administered first aid and then moved the wounded the company commander and most of the post to a position with greater protection. The radio was damaged and recognizing the need to reestablish communications with headquarters, he ran outside the perimeter through a fusillade of hostile fire to get a radio. Finding it inoperable, he returned through heavy fire to get two more. Crawling to the edge of the perimeter, he retrieved ammunition and weapons and re-supplied the wounded men. During an assault by over 30 enemy he occupied the most vulnerable forward position and succeeded single-handedly in stopping the attack. Learning that none of the radios were operable, he again crawled outside the perimeter, retrieved a fourth and established communications. He then continued to administer first aid to the wounded and leaving the perimeter, moved within a few feet of enemy positions, located five wounded soldiers, and led them to safety. When evacuation helicopters approached he carried 18 wounded men to the extraction site.
Penry received the medal from President Richard Nixon at a White House ceremony in 1971 for his courage during the battle at Binh Tuy province on Jan. 31, 1970. He was the only member of his infantry platoon not wounded or killed when they were raked by rocket and mortar fire; he moved the wounded to safety and called for artillery and air support.
As a civilian, Penry became embittered and was arrested several times on drug charges. Repeatedly given probation by judges impressed with his war record, Penry served seven months in prison in 1976 for violation of probation
Penry’s Medal of Honor and ribbons are on display at the Sgt. Richard Penry Medal of Honor Memorial Military Museum in Petaluma, California
Sgt. Richard Allen Penry died on May 9, 1994 at age 45 and is buried in Cypress Hill Memorial Park in Petaluma. Penry has two namesakes in his hometown: a park that was renamed in his honor, and a small military museum, the Sgt. Richard Penry Medal of Honor Memorial Military Museum, where his Medal of Honor is displayed.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Sgt. Penry, Company C, distinguished himself while serving as a rifleman during a night ambush mission. As the platoon was preparing the ambush position, it suddenly came under an intense enemy attack from mortar, rocket, and automatic weapons fire which seriously wounded the company commander and most of the platoon members, leaving small isolated groups of wounded men throughout the area. Sgt. Penry, seeing the extreme seriousness of the situation, worked his way through the deadly enemy fire to the company command post where he administered first aid to the wounded company commander and other personnel. He then moved the command post to a position which provided greater protection and visual communication and control of other platoon elements. Realizing the company radio was damaged and recognizing the urgent necessity to reestablish communications with the battalion headquarters, he ran outside the defensive perimeter through a fusillade of hostile fire to retrieve a radio. Finding it inoperable, Sgt. Penry returned through heavy fire to retrieve 2 more radios. Turning his attention to the defense of the area, he crawled to the edge of the perimeter, retrieved needed ammunition and weapons and resupplied the wounded men. During a determined assault by over 30 enemy soldiers, Sgt. Penry occupied the most vulnerable forward position placing heavy, accurate fire on the attacking enemy and exposing himself several times to throw hand grenades into the advancing enemy troops. He succeeded virtually single-handedly in stopping the attack. Learning that none of the radios were operable, Sgt. Penry again crawled outside the defensive perimeter, retrieved a fourth radio and established communications with higher headquarters. Sgt. Penry then continued to administer first aid to the wounded and repositioned them to better repel further enemy attacks. Despite continuous and deadly sniper fire, he again left the defensive perimeter, moved to within a few feet of enemy positions, located 5 isolated wounded soldiers, and led them to safety. When evacuation helicopters approached, Sgt. Penry voluntarily left the perimeter, set up a guiding beacon, established the priorities for evacuation and successively carried 18 wounded men to the extraction site. After all wounded personnel had been evacuated, Sgt. Penry joined another platoon and assisted in the pursuit of the enemy. Sgt. Penry’s extraordinary heroism at the risk of his own life are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the U.S. Army.
//Richard M. Nixon// President
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.
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