President Donald Trump on June 13 said he will award the Medal of Honor next month to a retired west Michigan high school teacher and coach who as a medic is credited with saving the lives of 10 members of his platoon during the Battle of Nui Yon Hill in Vietnam nearly 50 years ago.
Trump will present the nation’s highest military award to James C. McCloughan, a 71-year-old resident of South Haven, at a ceremony in Washington on July 31. The award comes in the wake of a measure passed last year by Congress waiving the time limit in which the award could be given. It was signed into law by President Barack Obama before he left office.
As the Free Press previously reported, McCloughan was a 23-year-old medic who over the course of a bloody, two-day battle in May 1969 near Don Que returned to the battlefield multiple times to retrieve wounded soldiers despite being hit with shrapnel from a grenade and being shot in the arm.
Then-Pfc. James McCloughan at Basic Combat Training, September 1968.Photo via James McCloughan/U.S. Army
McCloughan, who was drafted into the Army after graduating from Olivet College with a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and a teaching certificate, spent nearly four decades after returning to Michigan teaching psychology, sociology and geography at South Haven High School and coaching football, wrestling and baseball. He is a member of the Michigan High School Coaches Hall of Fame.
“This is not a James McCloughan award, it’s an award for my men, for Charlie Company,” McCloughan told the Free Press last year when Congress was moving toward authorizing his receiving the award. “We had a horrendous battle, a situation you will never forget. … I wasn’t going to leave my men, and they were going to protect me.”
McCloughan — who was a private first class at the time of the battle and rose to the rank of specialist 5 — has already received numerous decorations associated with his bravery, including the Combat Medical Badge, two Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars. But his receiving the Medal of Honor was hampered by rules that it had to have been awarded within five years of the actions that warrant it.
Then-Pfc. James McCloughan in front of the Vietnam Regional Exchange Snack Shop, 1969.Photo via James McCloughan/U.S. Army
Some years ago, McCloughan’s old platoon leader, Randy Clark, began an effort to have the Pentagon review whether he should still receive the award. Former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter decided he should but said that Congress would have to act to waive the time limit. It did so as part of a defense authorization act passed last December.
Speaking to the Free Press last year, McCloughan vividly remembered the battle, which he said his own commander considered ill-advised because they did not know the enemy’s strength, which turned out to be far greater than their own. Of the 89 soldiers flown in by helicopter to try to block a North Vietnamese advance, 32 returned — with 12 killed and the rest wounded or missing in action.
McCloughan said despite grenade wounds he refused to leave the battle in which platoons he served with ran into multiple ambushes. As a medic, he dashed back and forth to treat and try to rescue the wounded as machine gunners tried to spray protective fire to keep him from getting killed.
Details of the award ceremony — other than the fact that it will take place at the White House — have not yet been released. In its announcement, the White House noted that in order to receive the award, “the meritorious conduct must involve great personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life.”
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