BY DUANE ALLAN VACHON, PH.D. For the last several months this column has been featuring Medal of Honor recipients from Indiana. Many of those recipients were awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in wars that many of us have forgotten. Aside from the fact that I am a Hoosier by birth I wanted to feature those heroes to make sure they are never forgotten. Our country owes it to those men indeed to all who have served in the armed forces of America to not let their service be forgotten.
Since I featured some of the heroes from my home state, I thought it would be an idea to feature some of the heroes from my war, Vietnam. Some of these heroes may have been featured in a previous article. Somehow I don’t think it will hurt to honor them again.
A little background on the Vietnam War, (also known as the Second Indochina War, Vietnam Conflict, and in Vietnam as the American War), took place from 1955 to 1975. The war was fought between the Communist-supported Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the United States-supported Republic of Vietnam, beginning with the presence of a small number of US military advisors in 1955 and escalating into direct US involvement in a ground war in 1965. It concluded with the Fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975, defeating the United States foreign policy in Vietnam.
During the Vietnam War, 248 Medals of Honor were awarded, 156 (62.9%) of them posthumously. Soldiers of the Army received the most with 161, followed by 57 to the Marines, 16 to the Navy and the remaining 14 to the Air Force. Five additional medals have been awarded following the war to service personnel who earned them during the war.
The first actions to earn a Medal of Honor in this war were those of Roger Donlon who, on 6 July 1964, rescued and administered first aid to several wounded soldiers and led a group against an enemy force. The last actions to earn a Medal of Honor in this war were those of Bud Day, for actions as a prisoner of war from 26 August 1967 through 14 March 1973 – though some honorees (such as Leslie H. Sabo, Jr., honored on 16 May 2012) have been cited for their Medal after Day’s recognition on March 4, 1976.
The first African American recipient of the war was Milton L. Olive, III who sacrificed himself to save others by smothering a grenade with his body. Riley L. Pitts was killed after attacking an enemy force with rifle fire and grenades and was the first African American commissioned officer of the war to receive the medal. Thomas was a conscientious objector who received the medal for his actions as a medic; three chaplains received the medal, including Vincent R. Capodanno, who served with the Marine Corps and was known as the “Grunt Padre”.
Adams was born in Casper, Wyoming. He attended Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Missouri, and graduated from Colorado State University in 1962. He joined the U.S. Army in Kansas City, Missouri, with the serial number 521482167. He began his tour in Vietnam on Monday, July 6, 1970. On May 25, 1971, Adams, a major, volunteered to fly a lightly armed helicopter mission to rescue three wounded soldiers from a besieged firebase in Kontum Province, despite the clear weather which would provide the numerous enemy anti-aircraft around the location with clear visibility. Despite fire from machine gun emplacements and rockets, Adams succeeded in landing at the firebase while supporting helicopter gunships attacked the enemy positions. After take-off, however, the helicopter was hit by fire. Adams momentarily regained control and attempted to land, however the helicopter exploded in mid air and crashed. Adams, who was 31 at the time, was killed.
Medal of Honor citation
Maj. Adams distinguished himself on 25 May 1971 while serving as a helicopter pilot in Kontum Province in the Republic of Vietnam. On that date, Maj. Adams volunteered to fly a lightly armed helicopter in an attempt to evacuate 3 seriously wounded soldiers from a small fire base which was under attack by a large enemy force. He made the decision with full knowledge that numerous antiaircraft weapons were positioned around the base and that the clear weather would afford the enemy gunners unobstructed view of all routes into the base. As he approached the base, the enemy gunners opened fire with heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms. Undaunted by the fusillade, he continued his approach determined to accomplish the mission. Displaying tremendous courage under fire, he calmly directed the attacks of supporting gunships while maintaining absolute control of the helicopter he was flying. He landed the aircraft at the fire base despite the ever-increasing enemy fire and calmly waited until the wounded soldiers were placed on board. As his aircraft departed from the fire base, it was struck and seriously damaged by enemy anti-aircraft fire and began descending. Flying with exceptional skill, he immediately regained control of the crippled aircraft and attempted a controlled landing. Despite his valiant efforts, the helicopter exploded, overturned, and plummeted to earth amid the hail of enemy fire. Maj. Adams’ conspicuous gallantry, intrepidity, and humanitarian regard for his fellow man were in keeping with the most cherished traditions of the military service and reflected utmost credit on him and the U S. Army.
// Gerald Ford // President
He left behind his wife Sandra, a daughter Jeanne, and a son, John who is now a Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps.
He is buried at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver, Colorado. His grave can be found in plot P O, Grave 3831.
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.
If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a veteran.
Author: Duane Vachon
Duane A. Vachon PhD has been a licensed clinical psychologist for over thirty years. He belongs to the order of Secular Franciscans and is a life member of the Guild of Pastoral Psychology. After living almost 40 years as an expatriate, he now writes from his home in Hawaii. He has several books published and has written hundreds of articles on social justice and spiritual issues. His Doctoral thesis on ethics has set the standard at many universities. Reach Dr. Vachon at vachon.duane@gmail.