On this day 51 years ago Pfc. Oscar P. Austin gave his life to save a fellow Marine when he not only leaped toward an enemy grenade, absorbing the blast, but then stood between the injured man and a North Vietnamese Army soldier, taking a bullet to save another Marine.
For his actions that day, Austin was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the military's highest award for valor.
Born Jan. 15, 1948 in Nacogdoches, Texas, Austin grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, graduating from Phoenix Union High School in 1967, before he enlisted in the Marine Corps in April 1968.
Within a year, he was in Vietnam, serving as an ammo tech with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, according to the Navy.
On the morning of Feb. 23, 1969, Austin's observation post, to the west of Da Nang, came under attack. A large North Vietnamese Army force stormed the position, hurling grenades and satchel charges, as small arms fire rained down on the Marines.
Seeing a wounded Marine caught out in the open, Austin left his foxhole, and despite the danger he raced through enemy fire to move the wounded man to safety. As he reached the casualty, a grenade landed nearby.
Without hesitation, he leaped between the wounded Marine and the explosive, absorbing the blast. Badly wounded, he turned to examine the injured man, and as he did, he saw an NVA soldier nearby — with a rifle trained on his fellow Marine.
Knowing what it would mean, Austin threw himself between the wounded Marine and enemy fire, and in doing so, gave his life.
In addition to being awarded the Medal of Honor, the U.S. Navy's USS Oscar Austin, an Arleigh Burke-class destroy, bears his name.
Oscar Austin's full Medal of Honor citation can be read below:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as an assistant machine gunner with Company E, in connection with operations against enemy forces. During the early morning hours Pfc. Austin's observation post was subjected to a fierce ground attack by a large North Vietnamese Army force supported by a heavy volume of hand grenades, satchel charges, and small arms fire. Observing that 1 of his wounded companions had fallen unconscious in a position dangerously exposed to the hostile fire, Pfc. Austin unhesitatingly left the relative security of his fighting hole and, with complete disregard for his safety, raced across the fire-swept terrain to assist the marine to a covered location. As he neared the casualty, he observed an enemy grenade land nearby and, reacting instantly, leaped between the injured marine and the lethal object, absorbing the effects of its detonation. As he ignored his painful injuries and turned to examine the wounded man, he saw a North Vietnamese Army soldier aiming a weapon at his unconscious companion. With full knowledge of the probable consequences and thinking only to protect the marine, Pfc. Austin resolutely threw himself between the casualty and the hostile soldier, and, in doing, was mortally wounded. Pfc. Austin's indomitable courage, inspiring initiative and selfless devotion to duty upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.