Bittersweet ceremony for war hero
The (Stockton, Calif.) Record
STOCKTON - Richard Pittman belongs to an exclusive club. Coast to coast, there are 80 living members.
And Monday, when they gather in Washington, D.C., for National Medal of Honor Day, poor health will keep Pittman home in Stockton.
"Yeah, we're doing fine," Pittman said. "Just dealing with health issues and hoping to get better."
Pittman has had some nerve damage in his feet, and that has affected his legs. He needs a wheelchair for mobility but looks forward to leaving that temporary condition behind.
Pittman, 67, is a Medal of Honor recipient from the Vietnam War. He was a Marine Corps lance corporal at the time.
Today, he is vice president of the Congressional National Medal of Honor Society. Pittman was part of a conference call Friday morning with society members who are in the nation's capital for a series of events. "Most of my contemporaries are there," Pittman said. "They will lay a wreath at the Tomb for the Unknown Soldier, conduct some business and hold a memorial ceremony at another location."
Earlier this month, he was honored on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and by the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors.
Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, told House members that "dedication to protecting our country and preserving our way of life should never go unnoticed."
The supervisors took turns reading the history of the Medal of Honor and an account of Pittman's heroism in 1966. Because of his health, Pittman was unable to attend.
"It feels kinda weird," he said, "to have people take time out of their lives to honor medal recipients."
When he's healthy, Pittman still manages to find time to help raise funds for the Medal of Honor Foundation, for Wounded Warriors and for other veterans' organization.
His defining moment in Vietnam occurred near the demilitarized zone on July 24, 1966, when he rushed to aid members of a lead platoon who had come under heavy fire from enemy forces.
His presidential citation reads in part:
"Pittman continued to forge forward. ... He again came under heavy fire from two automatic weapons which he promptly destroyed. Learning that there were additional wounded Marines 50 yards further along the trail, he braved a withering hail of enemy mortar and small-arms fire to continue onward. As he reached the position where the leading Marines had fallen, he was suddenly confronted with a bold frontal assault by 30 to 40 enemy. Totally disregarding his own safety, he calmly established a position in the middle of the trail and raked the advancing enemy with devastating machine-gun fire."
Forty-seven years later, Pittman is quick to deflect attention.
"I don't think they're honoring me," he said. "It's the medal. I remember those who were wounded or killed. I thank God I'm alive, and I pray for those who didn't survive and their families."
When Pittman speaks publicly, he uses the Medal of Honor talking points. "I tell people about what we value: courage, sacrifice, patriotism, citizenship, integrity and commitment."
He stays busy at home in Stockton with the domestic responsibilities of a grandparent. He has four grown daughters and he and his wife, Patricia, have 16 grandchildren between them. "That's a lot of birthdays."