CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq -- Forget about block-party barbecues and patriotic parades, this Veterans Day celebration was anything but ordinary.
Three Medal of Honor recipients visited Camp Taqaddum to share their experiences, passion and relaxed humor with a military audience Nov. 11.
“I’m having a heck of a time,” said retired Capt. John J. McGinty III, one of 111 living Medal of Honor recipients. He also earned the distinction of oldest Marine at Camp Fallujah’s Marine Corps birthday celebration a day earlier.
“I always made fun of the tottering old guys up there,” joked McGinty, a 66-year-old from Boston. “Now I am that guy.”
“That guy” led a 32-man platoon against more than 1,000 North Vietnamese soldiers in July 1966.
McGinty, then a staff sergeant, ignored his injuries and charged through intense automatic weapons and mortar fire to care for the wounded and direct fire on the enemy. He then called for artillery and air strikes that repelled the assault and resulted in high enemy casualties.
As he spoke, McGinty wove sincerity with his dry sense of humor. “I had nine years of enlisted service and only two good conduct medals,” he said.
The Marine Corps awards the good conduct medal for every three years of upright service. “I think (those actions in Vietnam) saved my career.”
Sgt. Maj. Gary L. Littrell also spoke of his Vietnam experience. He earned a Medal of Honor near Dak Seang in April 1970 as a South Vietnamese military advisor. The combined unit came under intense mortar fire, killing the Vietnamese commander and one American, and seriously wounding all the other advisors.
Littrell “exhibited near superhuman endurance” over the next four days, moving through enemy fire to distribute ammunition, care for the wounded and offer “encouragement to the Vietnamese (soldiers) in their own language,” according to his citation. Littrell repeatedly directed accurate air strikes which eventually defeated the enemy.
He admitted that being a soldier wasn’t always easy. After receiving the Medal of Honor, he experienced jealousy and stereotyping from both his peers and commanders. Littrell alluded to these experiences and assured the military audience that whatever hardships they face, their efforts in Iraq are not going unnoticed.
“We know why you’re here,” said Littrell, 62, from Henderson, Ky. “You’re here to fight terrorists on their turf to keep them from bringing terror back home to us, and we thank you.”
Littrell introduced Col. Robert L. Howard, a 67-year-old native of Opelika, Ala., and an Army veteran with 36 years of service and five combat deployments to Vietnam. Regarded as one of the most decorated soldiers in American history, Howard earned three Medal of Honor recommendations over a 13-month period for three separate actions.
It’s fitting, Howard said, that he learned of earning the award over a two-way radio, while under enemy fire, immediately after receiving a combat wound that would result in one of his eight Purple Hearts.
All three distinguished guests spoke humbly of their actions and praised the accomplishments of American service members in Iraq. Circumstances took their recognition of one fallen hero a step further.
President George W. Bush had recently announced a posthumous Medal of Honor presentation to recognize the actions of Cpl. Jason Dunham, a Marine who made the ultimate sacrifice for his men by jumping on a live hand grenade April 14, 2004.
Bush made the announcement Nov. 10. The date marked 231 years of the United States Marine Corps and would have been Dunham’s 25th birthday.
Howard stood at the podium and called two Marine corporals to the front of the stage. He removed his medal, handed it to the volunteers and read a print article which outlined the young Marine’s selfless actions.
“We’re your fathers, we’re your brothers, and we did a good job like you’re doing out here,” said McGinty, “but (we fought) a different kind of war, not as psychologically tough as this one.
“We went out fighting battalion to battalion, company to company,” he said, adding that in Iraq, it’s often difficult to distinguish friend from foe. “You’re doing an excellent job.”