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Vietnam War veteran awarded the Navy Cross, decades after firefight

By KATY SWORD | The Columbian | Published: November 18, 2018

(Tribune News Service) — Fifty years after retired Marine 1st Sgt. John Lord led his unit through an ambush during the Vietnam War, he was awarded the Navy Cross for his efforts.

The Navy Cross is the second highest award a Marine or sailor can receive, outranked only by the Medal of Honor.

Lord first received the Bronze Star for his efforts in 1975, seven years after he placed himself in the crosshairs of a hidden North Vietnamese Army battalion to rescue his wounded comrades.

On that fateful day in 1968, Lord’s platoon commander and senior leadership were wounded during an July 28 ambush. Lord “unhesitatingly maneuvered across the fire-swept terrain and skillfully deployed the platoon against the enemy,” according to the award citation.

Lord then located one of the few remaining operational radios and began directing air support until reinforcements could arrive, all while rescuing his injured comrades.

The day after the battle, now-retired Lt. Col. Michael Sweeney began advocating for the Navy Cross on Lord’s behalf for his heroic actions. Forty-three years later, Sweeney’s efforts were realized.

Lord traveled from his home in Mesa, Ariz., to receive the award with family in Vancouver during a Marine Corps birthday ball on Saturday. The ceremony itself was a break in tradition, but a break considered by the hundreds in attendance worthwhile to recognize the 2,460th Marine to ever receive the Navy Cross.

“It is one of the greatest honors of my career,” said an emotional Lt. Col. Health Freeman before introducing Lord. “It’s because of the love and faithfulness of those he served with and those he served under … his award was upgraded and that was so rightfully deserved.”

In between a 12 sword salute and the traditional birthday cake presentation, Lord was finally presented with the honor 43-years in the making.

“Everything on that citation is true except one thing they left off,” Lord said. “They left off the Marines who served with me that day.”

Four of his fellow unit members were in attendance Saturday night, and stood at Lord’s behest to receive a standing ovation rivaling the one he had enjoyed just moments before.

One of those men was Cpl. Hank Fletcher, who Lord described as a “bulldog with a bone,” and just one of his peers who spent decades advocating on Lord’s behalf.

“I can only stand here and say how proud I am to have served with you Marines — and corpsman, I won’t forget you too,” Lord said. “I am honored to call you brothers in arms.”

©2018 The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.)
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