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Trump Awards Medal of Honor to Vietnam Veteran


President Donald Trump has presented the U.S. military's most prestigious honor to former Army Medic Jim "Doc" McCloughan for his heroic actions during the battle of Nui Yon Hill in May 1969.

The 71-year-old Vietnam War veteran was the first to be awarded the Medal of Honor by President Donald Trump, and he is credited with saving 10 soldiers over the three-day battle.

"Today, to 320 million grateful American hearts, Private McCloughan carries one immortal title, and that title is hero," Trump said at the medal presentation ceremony at the White House.

McCloughan was wounded multiple times but refused to leave his battle brothers to get medical treatment.

"And I looked down and I had blood all over me and I said, 'I'm not going. You're going to need me,'" McCloughan told VOA.

President Donald Trump stands on stage before bestowing the nation's highest military honor, the Medal of Honor, to retired Army medic Jim McCloughan, left, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, July 31, 2017.
President Donald Trump stands on stage before bestowing the nation's highest military honor, the Medal of Honor, to retired Army medic Jim McCloughan, left, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, July 31, 2017.

Battle of Nui Yon Hill

Nearly 50 years ago, the battle was stacked against the guys in Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, 196 Light Infantry Brigade from the start. McCloughan was one of just 89 men up against 2,000 Vietnamese enemy fighters. More than half of Charlie Company was either killed or wounded.

"I don't know how they didn't finish us off, to tell you the truth. It was just so many of them. They were everywhere," said Joe Middendorf, one of McCloughan's battle mates.

McCloughan patched up Middendorf's wounds during the battle, and Middendorf frequently covered McCloughan as he dashed into the line of fire time and again to carry his wounded comrades back to safety.

"Seeing Doc run out there like that was just unbelievable. You know, not many people would do that," Middendorf told VOA. "Stuff he did [was] something you'd see in a movie."

One of the guys McCloughan ran to save during the first day was former Sgt. Bill Arnold. Arnold was thrown out of his helicopter as it went down and severely injured his knee.

WATCH: McCloughan 'Would Not Flinch,' Trump Says

When it was time to move away from the enemy ambush, Arnold realized he couldn't run. He dragged himself for a while using his rifle as a walking stick, but as shock and exhaustion set in, the Vietnamese horizon started to blur.

Arnold looked up and saw a man running toward him. He said he was confused.

"What the hell would anybody be running into the line of fire [for], you know?" Arnold said, his eyes lighting up as he recalled that hopeful moment. "It was Doc. He was coming after me."

The next day, former SPC Kent Nielson was shot in the back of his shoulder as the Vietnamese began to surround his position. The bullet exited through his chest.

Nielson spun around and collapsed, his weapon falling on top of him. McCloughan ran to him, patched his wound, carried him to safety and kept him alive throughout the night as the battle raged around them.

"In every sense of the word, he gave me a second chance at living," Nielson said.

'All hope vanished'

During the morning darkness on the start of the third day, the men of Charlie Company had no food or water. Former Sgt. Mike Martino said things looked grim as a helicopter that the company had expected to get them started to drift away.

"When that helicopter pulled out, all hope vanished with it," he told VOA. "It got almost silent, you know, eerie, and then the word came down. It was whispered, 'Save one [bullet] for yourself.'"

President Donald Trump applauds as retired Army medic Jim McCloughan points to his family after bestowing the nation's highest military honor, the Medal of Honor, to McCloughan, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, July 31, 2017.
President Donald Trump applauds as retired Army medic Jim McCloughan points to his family after bestowing the nation's highest military honor, the Medal of Honor, to McCloughan, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, July 31, 2017.

Even McCloughan remembered stopping to say a prayer in the middle of the horrific battle.

"I said, Lord, if you get me out of this hell on earth so that I can tell my dad face to face again that I love him, and give him a hug, I'll be the best dad, the best coach and the best teacher that I can ever be," McCloughan said.

McCloughan said he kept that promise, fathering two sons and coaching 133 high school teams, 20 Little League baseball teams and 13 junior wrestling teams. He credits his sports background with helping him be physically prepared and mentally focused in such a harrowing fight for survival.

Now that he has been awarded America's top military honor, his battle mates say they know their Doc has a lot more good things in store.

"He'll run with this and he's going to help a lot of people," Martino said.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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