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West Michigan man could be in line for Medal of Honor

The Army version of the Medal of Honor.

C.J. LIN/STARS AND STRIPES

By TODD SPANGLER | Detroit Free Press | Published: November 23, 2016

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — A retired high school teacher and coach from west Michigan could be on the verge of receiving the nation’s highest military award, the Medal of Honor, for saving the lives of 10 members of his platoon during the Battle of Nui Yon Hill in Vietnam some 48 years ago.

James C. McCloughan, 70, of South Haven was a 23-year-old medic who over the course of a bloody, two-day battle — and despite being sprayed with shrapnel from a grenade and shot in the arm — returned over and over again to retrieve wounded soldiers from the battlefield under fire.

“This is not a James McCloughan award, it’s an award for my men, for Charlie Company. 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,” said McCloughan, who for nearly 40 years taught psychology and sociology and coached football, wrestling and baseball at South Haven High School before retiring in 2008.

McCloughan — a private first class at the time of the battle in May 1969 — has already received several decorations, including the Combat Medical Badge, two Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars and more. But it was an effort begun some years ago by his old platoon leader, Randy Clark, to help him win a Distinguished Service Cross that led Carter — upon reviewing the circumstances — to recommend the Medal of Honor.

The only problem was that typically a Medal of Honor has to be awarded within five years of the actions that warrant it. As happened recently in the case of Lt. Col. Charles Kettles of Ypsilanti, a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, however, Congress can waive that time limit for the president to make the award – which led to U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both D-Mich., and U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, recently introducing legislation to do just that on McCloughan’s behalf.

“Nearly 50 years ago, Private First Class James McCloughan acted heroically to save the lives of his fellow service members and it’s time that he finally receives the recognition he deserves,” said Stabenow. Peters credited his “heroism and dedication” in the heat of battle while Upton called him “an American hero.”

McCloughan, speaking to the Free Press by phone recently, remember vividly a battle he said his commander considered ill-advised since they did not know the strength of the enemy — which turned out to be far in excess of their own numbers. Of the 89 people flown in by helicopter to try to block the North Vietnamese from advancing, only 32 came out — with 12 killed and the rest wounded or missing in action.

McCloughan said at one point, because of his grenade wounds, his commander ordered him to leave the battle but he refused believing that the next day, he would be needed. He said platoons he served with in the battle ran into multiple ambushes and 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.

tspangler@freepress.com

©2016 the Detroit Free Press
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