Afghan War MoH Stirs Vietnam War Honorees
VIETNAM WAR MEDAL of Honor recipients agree: Salvatore Giunta’s life is changed forever. With the awarding of the Medal of Honor to Army Staff Sgt. Giunta, 25, on Nov. 16, for his heroics in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley on Oct. 25, 2007, a number of Vietnam War MoH recipients have added their own perspectives. “I put the award in a shoebox in the closet,” Sergeant Peter C. Lemon told the Army Times when he and several other MoH recipients were recently interviewed. Lemon, 60, one of the youngest living recipients from the Vietnam War, said he shunned the award and avoided attention for 13 years, believing the 17 other men in his platoon deserved it as much as he did, especially three soldiers who died fighting off a 400-man assault at a fire base in Tay Ninh province in 1970.
“We always say it’s tougher to wear the medal than to earn it,” said Maj. Gen. Patrick Brady, 74, who earned his after piloting a UH-1 Huey and rescuing 51 wounded soldiers surrounded by North Vietnamese troops in 1968. “He has to be careful or people will try to exploit him,” said Brady, but soldiers who fought with Giunta told the Army Times they have no intention of providing any special treatment, except for the tradition of saluting a recipient, no matter the rank. Retired Colonel Roger Donlon, 76, the first living MoH recipient in the Vietnam War, can still remember the first time a senior officer saluted him. “I turned around because I thought he was saluting someone behind me.”
Giunta was, according to friends, hesitant to accept the medal at first, but felt a sense of responsibility. Staff Sergeant Brett M. Perry told reporters, “He doesn’t want to be in the limelight but sees that this country is in need of someone to look up to.”
“He feels a little guilty about the award, but we all do,” fellow Medal of Honor recipient Lt. Col. Bruce Crandall told ABC News when he joined Giunta at a Chicago event. Crandall, who received his medal from President George W. Bush three years ago, helped to rescue dozens of injured soldiers by flying under intense enemy fire in the Ia Drang Valley in 1965, the battle immortalized in the bestselling book and movie We Were Soldiers.
Sergeant Giunta, who still serves in the Army, is currently based in Italy. “The thing of it is, he realizes he’s part of something bigger than one person,” Mark Maroon, an Army recruiter, told ABC News. “This is more than me that I’m representing,” said Giunta. “This is so many service men and women from all branches. I hope I can impact their life in some way.”
Ellsberg, Viet Veterans Busted at White House
HUNDREDS OF VETERANS and their supporters protesting the war in Afghanistan occupied the area directly in front of the White House on Dec. 16, and refused orders by the police to disperse. The arrest of 135 veterans, community leaders and antiwar activists included Daniel Ellsberg, the former military analyst who leaked the secret Pentagon Papers in 1971 as an act of protest against the Vietnam War. The recent protest, organized by Veterans for Peace, March Forward and several other organizations, was the largest veteran-led civil disobedience action since the war began 10 years ago. Those arrested included veterans of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Korea, Vietnam and WWII. For Ellsberg, 79, it was his 80th civil disobedience arrest.
New DAV Memorial Set for Washington
DISABLED AMERICAN VETERANS broke ground in November for its memorial, The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, at a 2.4-acre Washington, D.C., site within view of the Capitol, near the U.S. Botanical Garden. The vision to create a memorial for disabled veterans began more than 40 years ago when South Florida philanthropist Lois Pope sang for Vietnam War veterans and made a promise that if she could ever do something for disabled veterans, she would. She partnered with Disabled American Veterans in 1998 to begin the process of getting the memorial built. The memorial’s design is a star-shaped reflecting pool with a surface broken by a single eternal flame. For more information on the memorial, visit www.dav.org.
Key Figure in The Wall Effort Is Homicide Victim
JOHN P. WHEELER III, a Vietnam War veteran who played a key role in the creation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, was found dead on Dec. 31 in a Delaware landfill. Police in the town of Newark have ruled the death a homicide. Most recently working for a Virginia firm, Wheeler served as the first chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund for a decade beginning in 1979. Jan C. Scruggs, president of the Memorial Fund, told the Washington Post: “I worked closely with Jack to create the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I know how passionate he was about honoring all who serve their nation, and especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice.” Wheeler was a 1966 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and served as a staff officer in Vietnam from 1969 to 1971. He was the special assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force from 2005-08. At press time, a murder investigation was underway.
Emmy Goes to Wisconsin Vietnam Veteran Documentary
WISCONSIN PUBLIC Television won three 2010 Midwest Emmy Awards, two of them for Vietnam War veteran–related programs. Wisconsin Vietnam War Stories won for Outstanding Achievement for Documentary Programs—Historic Significance. Coverage of the LZ Lambeau Tribute Ceremony won WPT honors in the Special Events category.
Originally published in the April 2011 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here.