Medal of Honor recipient Marm visits Knoxville school

By MATT LAKIN | Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tenn. | Published: April 18, 2013

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Joe Marm doesn’t wear his medal often. When he does, it’s not because he wants to.

“I wear this medal for all the brave men and women whose actions go unsung,” he told students Wednesday at the Episcopal School of Knoxville. “No one hates war more than the warrior.”

Retired Army Col. Walter “Joe” Marm, 71, received the Medal of Honor for his actions while fighting in the Battle of Ia Drang in November 1965 when he was shot in the jaw while trying to relieve U.S. troops pinned down by North Vietnamese forces. The battle was portrayed in the movie, “We Were Soldiers.”

Marm told students from the school’s fifth through eighth grades he still wonders why he lived through the fight.

“I thank God,” he said. “If the bullet had been an inch or two lower, it would have hit my jugular (vein) and killed me. God has a plan for you, just like he did for me.”

Marm visited the school to help promote next year’s Medal of Honor Society convention, which will meet in Knoxville in October 2014. The convention typically includes school visits and other public and private events.

Organizers have estimated the convention could bring more than $2 million in revenue.

Marm and other recipients of the medal routinely travel the country to share their stories with students.

“It’s a very special opportunity to be able to talk to these young children,” he said. “They all have different questions. Sometimes they ask about the battle. Sometimes they want to know, did it hurt when I was shot? It’s always a pleasure. I just hope they realize God’s not going to put more on their pack than they can carry.”

Marm told the students how he enlisted as a young man, served with the Army’s 7th Cavalry Regiment and was then assigned to the 1st Cavalry Regiment as the Army began using helicopters to move soldiers in and out of battle.

“We had a new means of transportation,” he told the students. “The Army had never used helicopters before.”

Marm, then a 23-year-old lieutenant, led his platoon through the Ia Drang Valley to relieve 30 fellow troops surrounded by North Vietnamese forces. The platoon took cover under heavy machine-gun fire.

“We were trying to get up to the others to get them out of harm’s way,” he said.

Marm exposed himself to the machine-gun fire to kill four enemy soldiers and fire a bazooka at the machine-gun nest. The fire didn’t stop, and he ordered one of his men to throw a grenade at the enemy bunker.

The grenade fell short. Marm risked his life again.

“I ran forward and threw the grenade into the bunker,” he said. “That pretty much silenced it. I used my rifle to silence the rest of the enemy.”

A bullet shattered Marm’s jaw in the process. He spent weeks recovering with his jaw wired shut.

He still remembers the taste of his first meal once he could eat again.

Marm later served another tour in Vietnam. His youngest son just returned from service with the Army’s Special Forces in Afghanistan.

One student asked what went through Marm’s mind during the battle.

“It was getting dark, and we had to get to that platoon on the other side of the mountain,” he said.

He won’t deny he was scared.

“You just have to control your fear,” he said.

Marm told the students he had little trouble coming home and readjusting to civilian life — although Sundays still make him sad.

“Sundays are the day I’m down the most,” he said. “That’s the day the action was.”

The Medal of Honor has been awarded 3,460 times since its creation, according to the society, with 80 recipients still living.

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