Story of bravery illustrates character, leadership at Mead Hall presentation

By LARRY WOOD | Aiken Standard, S.C. | Published: January 30, 2016

Retired Marine Maj. Gen. John S. Grinalds used the story of a brave, young Marine lance corporal who died in Vietnam to illustrate the traits of character, leadership and education at a special program at Mead Hall Episcopal School on Thursday.

Grinalds, a former president of The Citadel in Charleston, spoke as part of a yearlong series commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of Aiken Preparatory School, which merged with Mead Hall in 2012.

During his presentation, Grinalds described the bravery of Alfred Herring, a 20-year-old Marine lance corporal from Mullins. Although wounded during an ambush, Herring risked his life to ensure that the wounded and dead from his squad were helicoptered to the hospital. After making certain the wounded were safe and the dead removed, Herring, having taken shrapnel in the femoral artery, bled out in the last helicopter from the scene.

“I’ve often thought about what his performance in the last 20 minutes of his life signified,” Grinalds said. “This is what I have drawn out of it.”

First, Herring, although only 20, “really knew his stuff,” Grinalds said.

“He was prepared to do what it took to get his men to safety,” Grinalds said.

Second, Herring was physically brave, Grinalds said.

“He could have waited for the cavalry to arrive to save those Marines who remained, but he didn’t,” he said. “He stepped in where no one else could and exposed himself to fire and was wounded.”

Herring was morally brave, Grinalds said.

“No one expected him to step up the way he did at his rank level, but he took the risk,” he said.

Finally, he was “completely selfless,” Grinalds said.

“Although he had been mortally wounded and the blood was coursing out of his body, he used his own compression bandages to wrap up the wounds of the fellow Marines,” Grinalds said. “He used the laces from his own boots to use as tourniquets. Never once did he think of himself.

“When he got on the radio and said, ‘Out,’ after all the wounded and dead had been loaded on the helicopter, he was not only checking out of the radio net. He was checking out of life.”

Grinalds said Herrings’ bravery in combat models that of George Mead, who died leading an attack on the Japanese in 1942 during World War II and for whom Mead Hall is named.

Grinalds said Herring’s and Mead’s actions demonstrate how character, education and leadership relate directly to students at Mead Hall today.

A rigorous academic education prepares students for life, Grinalds said.

“All of those components that make up for a balanced education prepare these young people for whatever challenges they will face later in life,” he said.

Athletics develops physical bravery, he said.

“The swimmers, the archers, all the players in all the different sports who have to submit themselves to the discipline of a team or an individual sport, learn how to stand up and take it,” Grinalds said.

Moral bravery is being responsible for others and relates to leadership, Grinalds said.

“In leadership relationships, there is the necessity to be honest,” Grinalds said. “The most unsuccessful leaders are those who hide the facts.”

Grinalds said that, ultimately, a supreme authority is the foundation for Mead Hall’s mission to build character and equip its students for leadership through education.

Grinalds said that when he first visited the school in December and saw the cross of Jesus Christ over the desk of Katherine B. Gordon, head of school, he knew that “this little school was under the authority of Jesus Christ.”

“If the head of school is under the authority of Jesus Christ, that’s an umbrella that falls over everything that Mead Hall touches, just like dew over Dixie,” Grinalds said.


©2016 the Aiken Standard (Aiken, S.C.)
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