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Former Army Sergeant Receives Medal of Honor

On July 21, 2014, President Barack Obama presented former U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Ryan M. Pitts with the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest valor medal, for his combat actions during a 2008 engagement in northeastern Afghanistan while serving with 2d Platoon, Chosen Company, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, 173d Airborne Brigade. Pitts is the ninth living recipient of the Medal of Honor for actions occurring in Iraq or Afghanistan.

On July 13, 2008, Pitts and his team were taking part in Operation Rock Move, an effort aimed at transferring remaining forces from Combat Outpost Bella to a new location called Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler on the outskirts of Wanat village. The mission was expected to be the last one of the Soldiers’ 14-month deployment.

At about 4 a.m. that morning, 2d Platoon conducted a “stand-to” at Observation Post (OP) Topside, positioned east of the main base. Shortly afterward, surveillance identified possible insurgents on the western high ground. Before Pitts and Sergeant Matthew Gobble could complete a request for fire, they heard the sound of machine-gun rounds from the north. Then the valley erupted in enemy fire.

The Soldiers at OP Topside were hit with small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades and hand grenades. Two paratroopers were killed in the initial volley, while Pitts and six others were wounded. Despite sustaining severe injuries from grenade shrapnel in both legs and his left arm, Pitts defended his position and his teammates for over an hour.

Showing incredible strength and determination, Pitts continued to communicate with leadership while under enemy fire, allowing U.S. forces to hold the OP and turn the tide of the battle. Without Pitts’ heroic actions, the enemy likely would have gained a foothold on the high ground, inflicted significantly greater causalities and seized the bodies of his fallen comrades.

Nine Soldiers were killed in the Battle of Wanat: Specialist Sergio Abad, Corporal Jonathan Ayers, Corporal Jason Bogar, 1st Lieutenant Jonathan Brostrom, Sergeant Israel Garcia, Corporal Jason Hovater, Corporal Matthew Phillips, Corporal Pruitt Rainey, and Corporal Gunnar Zwilling.

– From an article by Army News Service.

Marine Sergeant Receives Navy Cross

On April 22, 2014, U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Richard A. Jibson was presented the Navy Cross by Major General David Berger during a ceremony at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twenty-nine Palms, Calif. Jibson received the nation’s second-highest valor award for his heroic actions in 2012 during a deployment to Afghanistan with Regimental Combat Team 6 while serving as an infantry adviser to a Republic of Georgia Liaison Team.

On May 8, 2012, Jibson was leading a coalition force of Afghan, Georgian and U.S. personnel during the clearing of an Afghan village. At first contact with the enemy, he unhesitatingly took charge of the group, leading it through heavy, sustained fire from close-in fortified enemy positions. However, attempting to communicate between troops speaking three different languages proved difficult.

“Being a liaison to foreign troops, and the stresses that come with that, began to become more evident and the language barrier became more of a challenge as I had to relay important information through interpreters, which took time,” Jibson recalled. “But as long as we all knew what we had to do and all sides knew we were there for each other, we were getting out of there.”

Jibson added, “I’m not a superhero; I was just doing my job and I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the outstanding group of men I was with. … We had never trained as a group before, but everyone there knew what they had to do. We came together, and I would serve with those men any day with full confidence.”

Jibson said of his award: “Knowing the Marines throughout history who have been awarded the Navy Cross, it is an extreme honor to be receiving it. I just hope that I’m able to walk and fit in the shoes that those before me have filled. Every unit I was with always had those leaders for me to look up to. Everything they taught me, along with the good leadership and example, gave me the tools that I have today.”

– From an article by Corporal Charles Santamaria, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center.

Battle of Moore’s Mill Monument Dedication

At the July 28, 1862, Battle of Moore’s Mill (fought in a rural part of Callaway County near Fulton, Mo.),General Oden Guitar’s 700Union troops defeated Colonel Joseph C. Porter’s force of fewer than 350 Confederates. Following the Union victory, Guitar ordered that a common grave be dug to bury the bodies of both sides’ fallen soldiers. Yet over the years the location of the unmarked mass grave was lost.

Now, however, that has changed thanks to the extensive efforts of the Elijah Gates Camp 570, Sons of Confederate Veterans. Using sketchy and incomplete information found in books, old newspapers and veterans’ descriptions,camp members identified a possible site and then hired a ground-penetrating radar firm that on April 5, 2013,identified several underground anomalies that were consistent with a mass grave.

The Gates Camp, local organizations and individuals generously contributed funds to erect a fence around the grave site and to purchase a granite marker to honor these fallen Union and Confederate soldiers who have lain side by side for 152 years. Inscribed on the monument are the names of those whom researchers were able to identify as having been killed in the battle and buried in the mass grave.

On July 27, 2014, the Gates Camp conducted a formal dedication ceremony during which the monument was unveiled with full military honors rendered by blue and gray re-enactors representing units that had fought in the battle (Union 3d Iowa Cavalry and Confederate 1st Northeast Missouri Cavalry). Now, when people visit the final resting place of those who died at the Battle of Moore’s Mill, they will remember the soldiers’ sacrifices as they read the names etched in the monument’s face.

– Submitted by Noel A. Crowson, PhD, Colonel, U.S. Army (Ret.), Commander of Elijah Gates Camp 570, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Fulton, Mo.

U.S. Army Captain Francis B. Wai’s Medal of Honor

On October 20, 1944, General Douglas MacArthur waded ashore at Leyte, Philippines, and delivered his famous radio message to the Filipino people declaring his return “as the voice of freedom” during the“hour of their redemption.”Around that same time, Captain Francis B. Wai fought the Japanese with the greatest valor until he was killed in action for the principles in MacArthur’s declaration.

Captain Wai, of Honolulu,Hawaii, was one of only a few Asian-American U.S. Army officers in 1944. He served with 34th Infantry Regiment,24th Division, out of Schofield Barracks, Oahu. The division was one of two belonging to X Corps, which was under the command of Major General Franklin C. Sibert. Sibert’s X Corps and Major General John R. Hodge’s XXIV Corps formed Lieutenant General Walter Krueger’s U.S. 6th Army that came ashore at Leyte to begin MacArthur’s liberation of the Philippines from three years of brutal Japanese occupation.

The assault beach (Red)assigned to 24th Division was narrow, but it consisted of firm sand. Behind the beach the Japanese had established tank obstacles, tunnels and well-concealed pillboxes in the thick jungle growth and marshy ground. Open rice paddies fringed Hill 522, the most prominent terrain feature dominating the beaches and roads in the surrounding area.

Thirty-fourth Infantry Regiment led the attack, landing in battalion columns. The Japanese allowed the first wave of troops to land, but when the following waves were 2,000-3,000 meters offshore, the enemy unleashed mortar and machine-gun fire, inflicting heavy casualties. Gunfire from Japanese positions located in a palm grove further frustrated the U.S. assault.

With many senior NCOs and officers killed or wounded,Captain Wai found the beaches crowded with disorganized,pinned-down soldiers. When Company K ran into a series of five defensive pillboxes, Wai took command of the situation and issued orders. Disregarding heavy enemy machine-gun fire,he moved inland without cover and inspired the men to follow.

During the advance, Wai deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire to reveal the locations of the Japanese strong points. The pillboxes were then systematically neutralized with Browning automatic rifle fire and hand grenades. Wai was killed while leading an assault against the last remaining pillbox.

Harold Rant, a wire technician from Headquarters Battalion, said of Wai: “A hero came forth but we knew he had come to die. He was a big Hawaiian captain, one of the most popular officers.” Rant added, “Word passed that [Wai] was really ripping and had knocked out three pillboxes. With real luck, he was jumping, running, dodging, and crawling under machine-gun fire to [toss] hand-grenades into the fortresses. At about the fifth one they got him, laced him with fire and he was hit 10 times through the chest.”

Captain Wai was largely responsible for the speed with which the beachhead was secured. For his actions, he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC). On June 21, 2000, Wai’s DSC was upgraded to the Medal of Honor (MoH). His brother, Robert Wai, donated the MoH to the U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii in Fort DeRussy, Hawaii, and it is part of the U.S. Army Historical Collection.

– Submitted by Colonel (Ret.) Robert Dalessandro and Dieter Stenger, Curator, U.S. Army Center of Military History.

For information about the National Museum of the U.S. Army, slated to open in 2019, visit

National D-Day Memorial, Bedford, Va.

Dedicated on June 6, 2001, by President George W. Bush, the National D-Day Memorial, located at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Bedford, Va., pays tribute to the valor, fidelity and sacrifice of the Allied forces that invaded Normandy on June 6, 1944. Congress warranted the establishment of the memorial in Bedford in recognition of the small town’s (population 3,200 in 1944) proportionally highest American price paid on D-Day when 19 “Bedford boys” were killed while assaulting Omaha Beach as part of 116th Infantry Regiment, U.S. 29th Infantry Division.

At the center of the memorial is a monumental,44-foot-tall arch inscribed with “Overlord,” the codename of the Normandy invasion.The base of the arch features a reflecting pool with sculptures of several soldiers assaulting the beachhead from a landing craft in a captivating scene that the memorial’s website says is “symbolic of the arduous trudge soldiers made onto the bloodstained beaches of Normandy, France.”

The memorial is maintained and operated by the National D-Day Memorial Foundation, a 501(c)(3) private, nonprofit organization. Visit for more information or to make a tax-deductible donation.

Antony Beevor Wins 2014 Pritzker Literature Award

British historian and author Antony Beevor is the winner of the 2014 Pritzker Military Museum& Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing. He received the coveted award at the Museum &Library’s annual gala in Chicago on November 8.

The Pritzker Literature Award, which includes a medallion, citation, and $100,000honorarium, recognizes and honors the contributions of a living author for a body of work dedicated to enriching the understanding of military history.First awarded to historian James McPherson in 2007, it has since become one of the most prestigious literary prizes of its kind.Other past recipients – several of whom served as members of the award’s 2014 screening committee – are Allan Millett,Gerhard Weinberg, Rick Atkinson, Carlo D’Este, Max Hastings and Tim O’Brien.

“Winning this award is, for me, the greatest honor imaginable – partly because of the reputation of the prize, but also because on the panel of judges are some of the historians that I admire most in the world,” said Beevor. “It may be for lifetime achievement, which has a retrospective air in some ways, but I think the wonderful idea is that it is the greatest carrot imaginable to push you forward and keep you writing.”

Beevor, a distinguished Fellow of Britain’s Royal Society of Literature and former officer of the British army’s 11th Hussars, has published four novels and 10 nonfiction books. He has been heralded as one of the world’s finest military historians, and his books – the most recent of which is entitled The Second World War – have sold more than 6 million copies in30 languages.

The Pritzker Literature Award is sponsored by Chicago’s Tawani Foundation. To learn more, visit pritzker


Originally published in the January 2015 issue of Armchair General.