Vietnam vet, Army medic McCloughan to receive Medal of Honor
By TODD SPANGLER | Detroit Free Press | Published: June 13, 2017
WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — President Donald Trump said he will award the Medal of Honor next month to a retired west Michigan high school teacher and coach who as a medic is credited with saving the lives of 10 members of his platoon during the Battle of Nui Yon Hill in Vietnam nearly 50 years ago.
Trump will present the nation’s highest military award to James McCloughan, a 71-year-old resident of South Haven, at a ceremony in Washington on July 31. The award comes in the wake of a measure passed last year by Congress waiving the time limit in which the award could be given. It was signed into law by President Barack Obama before he left office.
“We are forever grateful for then-Private First Class James McCloughan’s service to our country,” U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said. “Today, we are proud to announce that he is finally getting the recognition he deserves.”
As the Free Press previously reported, McCloughan, who could not be immediately reached, was a 23-year-old medic who, over the course of a bloody, two-day battle in May 1969 near Don Que, returned to the battlefield multiple times to retrieve wounded soldiers despite being hit with shrapnel from a grenade and being shot in the arm.
McCloughan, who was drafted into the Army after graduating from Olivet College with a bachelor of arts in sociology and a teaching certificate, spent nearly four decades after returning to Michigan teaching psychology, sociology and geography at South Haven High School and coaching football, wrestling and baseball. He is a member of the Michigan High School Coaches Hall of Fame.
“This is not a James McCloughan award, it’s an award for my men, for Charlie Company,” McCloughan told the Free Press last year when Congress was moving toward authorizing his receiving the award. “We had a horrendous battle, a situation you will never forget. … I wasn’t going to leave my men, and they were going to protect me.”
McCloughan — who rose to the rank of specialist 5 — has already received numerous decorations associated with his bravery, including the Combat Medical Badge, two Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars. But his receiving the Medal of Honor was hampered by rules that it had to have been awarded within five years of the actions that warrant it.
Some years ago, McCloughan’s old platoon leader, Randy Clark, began an effort to have the Pentagon review whether he should still receive the award. Former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter decided he should but said that Congress would have to act to waive the time limit. It did so as part of a defense authorization act passed last December.
Speaking to the Free Press last year, McCloughan vividly remembered the battle, which he said his own commander considered ill-advised because they did not know the enemy’s strength, which turned out to be far greater than their own. Of the 89 soldiers flown in by helicopter to try to block a North Vietnamese advance, 32 returned — with 12 killed and the rest wounded or missing in action.
McCloughan said despite grenade wounds, he refused to leave the battle in which platoons he served with ran into multiple ambushes. As a medic, he dashed back and forth to treat and try to rescue the wounded as machine gunners tried to spray protective fire to keep him from getting killed.
“James McCloughan risked his life to stay behind in the heat of battle and aid his fellow service members,” said U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “He exemplified the values of honor, courage and camaraderie that makes our military the finest in the world."
"His selfless actions saved lives,” added U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, whose district includes South Haven. “When he was done serving our country, Pfc. McCloughan quietly returned home to South Haven, where he dedicated his life to helping others. ... It’s time he finally receives the recognition he duly earned on the battlefield all those years ago.”
Details of the award ceremony — other than the fact that it will take place at the White House — have not yet been released. In its announcement, the White House noted that in order to receive the award, “the meritorious conduct must involve great personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life.”
Contact Todd Spangler at firstname.lastname@example.org