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John J. McGinty III, left, a retired Marine and one of 111 living Medal of Honor winners, greets troops during a visit to Camp Taqaddum in Anbar province, Iraq.

John J. McGinty III, left, a retired Marine and one of 111 living Medal of Honor winners, greets troops during a visit to Camp Taqaddum in Anbar province, Iraq. (Charlie Coon / S&S)

CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq — Gary L. Littrell’s Vietnamese-American battalion was attacked and all the leaders except for him were killed or seriously wounded.

So for four days, Littrell led the remaining troops, often commanding in Vietnamese, while tending to wounded and directing artillery and air support. Littrell then led them through ambushes during the withdrawal.

That was the easy part.

“[A general] told me that it’s going to be harder to wear that medal than it was to earn it,” Littrell told troops Saturday at Camp Taqaddum, Iraq. “Yes, it was harder to wear the medal on active duty.”

Littrell, one of three Medal of Honor recipients who spoke to troops on Veterans Day at the base chapel, said jealousy and snide comments hounded him during the rest of his active-duty career.

Now it’s easier, he said. Littrell said he wears the medal to honor those who’ve been killed in action.

About 200 gathered to hear the honorees, who are among 111 living recipients of the military’s highest service award. All were awarded for their actions in the 1960s during the Vietnam War.

Marine Cpl. Luis Pulido, 22, of Company B, 9th Engineer Support Battalion, said he appreciated that stories like these were passed on through generations.

“I was glad I was here,” Pulido, of Chicago, said afterward. “It’s going to make the rest of the time here a lot easier for me.”

Sgt. Eric Reetz of Company A, 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry, Minnesota Army National Guard, felt good when told by the honorees that most Americans support the troops.

“It’s uplifting to hear these guys come here and say they’re with us, they’re behind us and that they understand,” said Reetz, 30, of Eden Valley, Minn.

Marine Capt. (Ret.) John J. McGinty III was another of the honorees. His platoon, while trying to protect a withdrawing battalion, was attacked by small arms, automatic weapons and mortars, according to his citation.

When two of McGinty’s squads became separated, he made it through enemy fire to find 20 wounded men and the medical corpsman killed. McGinty, who was also wounded, loaded the weapons of the wounded and directed them to fire on their foes.

The enemy later tried to outflank the beleaguered Marines. But McGinty killed five of them, firing at point-blank range with his pistol.

McGinty warned not to buy into stories about crazed war veterans.

“None of us are druggies,” he said of himself and the other two honorees. “None of us beat our wife. All of us are men of one wife. None of us are crazy … much.”

Army Col. (Ret.) Robert L. Howard received eight Purple Hearts and was nominated for the Medal of Honor three separate times. According to his citation, he earned his medal while his unit was trying to rescue a missing soldier in enemy territory.

Wounded, he crawled through enemy fire to retrieve his platoon leader, drag him to safety, and then lead his troops for 3½ hours in a counterattack until rescue helicopters could land.

Howard ripped war critics and excoriated CNN for showing footage supplied by insurgents of U.S. troops in Iraq getting shot by snipers.

“Some mother back home saw that,” Howard said.


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