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Family of Fort Bragg Special Forces soldier donates his Medal of Honor

Sgt. 1st Class William M. Bryant

By RACHAEL RILEY | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: February 17, 2021

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — On what would have been Sgt. 1st Class William M. Bryant's 88th birthday, his family gathered Tuesday at the Fort Bragg building that bears his name to donate his Medal of Honor for a display there.

Bryant, a 5th Special Forces Group soldier, was killed March 24, 1969, in Vietnam.

He was posthumously awarded the nation's highest military decoration on Feb. 16, 1971, on what would have been Bryant's 37th birthday.

A few years later, in June 1973, the six-story Bryant Hall was named in his honor as part of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.

The building was rededicated in a ceremony Tuesday, along with the dedication of a gallery to showcase Bryant's photos and Medal of Honor.

Bryant's oldest son, Gregory Bryant, said that all of his life, his friends would look at the medal, say it was nice, then walk away. The importance of it, it seemed, was lost on most people.

When two officers who looked at it, however, they were in awe, he said.

"And I said the medal needs to be in a place where people can really appreciate it, and back on a wall in my mancave is probably not the place to be," he said.

Officials at Tuesday's ceremony said Bryant enlisted in the Army in 1952. He later joined the 82nd Airborne Division, then became a jumpmaster, an advanced noncommissioned officer and went to graduate from Ranger school.

Maj. Gen. Patrick Roberson, commander of the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, said Bryant once wrote in a letter home that he'd noticed the special forces soldiers in green berets on Fort Bragg and "wanted to do what they did."

"Sgt. 1st Class Bryant became the epitome of a Green Beret who endlessly pursued excellence," Roberson said. "He led from the front. He displayed a tremendous level of courage."

In 1968, Bryant was deployed to Vietnam as part of Company A, 5th Special Forces Group where he was a leader for the Civilian Irregular Defense Group Company 321, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Mobile Strike Force Command.

That meant Bryant trained, advised and assisted a paramilitary counterinsurgency force that included those indigenous to the area — known as Light Force 321.

And it was while leading a patrol of the group in 1969 in the Long Khanh Province that the Civilian Irregular Defense Group's base camp came under fire.

Bryant's Medal of Honor citation states he helped distribute ammunition, lead a patrol and suppress enemy fire after being wounded in Vietnam.

"There's one area in which we can truly say there is no argument to who is the greatest and that is one man who gives his life to save another's life," then-President Richard Nixon said to Bryant's family at the 1971 presentation of the medal. An audio clip of the event was played at Tuesday's ceremony.

Bryant's youngest son, Kelvin Bryant, was 4 years old when the family went to Washington, D.C., to collect the award on behalf of his father. While he doesn't remember the ceremony all those years ago, he's glad his father will be honored in the place where he served, he said.

Gregory Bryant said he wants his father to be remembered as a loving man who made sacrifices for his country.

Roberson said he wants the Special Forces soldiers who walk through Bryant Hall, see the gallery and Bryant's Medal of Honor to remember that each day.

"When they look at that and they read the inscription and see his picture, they should think about, 'Can I live up to that expectation of me?' And this is our lineage. This is who we are," Roberson said.

rriley@fayobserver.com

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