Aug. 1, 2017 —
WASHINGTON, July 31, 2017 — President Donald J. Trump awarded the Medal of Honor to former Army Spc. 5 James McCloughan during a White House ceremony today for heroism during the Vietnam War almost a half century ago.
McCloughan, a medic and a Vietnam veteran, was one of 89 soldiers in Company C, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 196th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division, who fought on Nui Yon Hill, near the city of Tam Kỳ from May 13 to 15, 1969.
Within minutes of landing there May 13, about 2,000 enemy soldiers had them surrounded, and two of their helicopters were shot down, Trump related during the ceremony. One soldier was badly wounded in the middle of an open field. "Jim did not hesitate," the president said. "He blazed through 100 meters of enemy fire to carry the soldier to safety."
After tending to that soldier, McCloughan joined a mission to advance toward the enemy, Trump said. But before long, they were ambushed. Again, he ran into danger to rescue his wounded men.
As he cared for two soldiers, shrapnel from an enemy rocket-propelled grenade "slashed open the back of Jim's body from head to foot. Yet, that terrible wound didn't stop Jim from pulling those two men to safety, nor did it stop him from answering the plea of another wounded comrade and carrying him to safety atop his own badly injured body. And so it went, shot after shot, blast upon blast," the president said.
"As one of his comrades recalled: 'Whoever called 'Medic!' could immediately count on McCloughan. He's a brave guy,'" Trump said.
Pleas for Help
That evening, soldiers went into their defensive position, but one didn't make it back, and McCloughan could not ignore his pleas for help, the president related.
Again, "Doc," as his fellow soldiers called him, did not hesitate, Trump said. "He crawled through a rice paddy thick with steel rain -- that means bullets all over the place -- and as soldiers watched him, they were sure that was the last time they would see Doc. They thought that was the end of their friend Jim."
But after several minutes, McCloughan emerged from the smoke and fire, carrying yet another soldier, the president said.
As McCloughan was carrying the wounded to be medevac'd, his lieutenant ordered him to get in too. "Get in. Get in," Trump said, conveying the lieutenant's orders. But McCloughan refused, saying "you're going to need me here."
McCloughan would later say, "I'd rather die on the battlefield than know that men died because they did not have a medic," Trump related.
Over the next 24 hours without food, water or rest, McCloughan fired at enemy soldiers, suffered a bullet wound to his arm, and continued to race into gunfire to save more and more lives, the president said.
"Though he was thousands of miles from home, it was as if the strength and pride of our whole nation was beating inside of Jim's heart," the president said. "He gave it his all, and then he just kept giving."
In those 48 hours, McCloughan rescued 10 American soldiers and tended to countless others, Trump said, adding that of the 89 in the company, their strength had dwindled to 32 by the end of the fighting.
A Promise to God
On the second day of that bloody fight, McCloughan found a soldier who had been badly shot in the stomach, Trump said. He knew the soldier wouldn't make it if he flung him on his back in a fireman's carry, so he lifted him up and carried him in his arms. As McCloughan was carrying the soldier, a thought flashed through his mind, the president said:
"Although Jim had always been close to his father, he realized that it was not since he'd been a young boy that he had told his dad those three simple yet beautiful words: 'I love you.'"
In that moment Jim offered up a prayer. He asked God, "If you get me out of this hell on earth so I can tell my dad I love him, then I'll be the best coach and father you ever asked for," the president said.
"As he prayed," he continued, "a great peace came over him. ... Jim made it out of that hell on earth. And, the first thing he did when he arrived back on American soil, was to say those beautiful words: 'I love you dad. I love you.' Jim said those words over and over again for the next 22 years until the last time he saw his father, the night before his dad passed on.
"Today, I venture to say, his dad is the proudest father in heaven," Trump said. "Jim fought with all the love and courage in his soul. He was prepared to lay down his life so that his brothers in arms could live theirs."
The president added that McCloughan kept the other part of his promise to God as well, coaching high school sports to the best of his ability for the next 38 years.
McCloughan was joined at the White House ceremony by members of his family, eight other Medal of Honor recipients, and 10 soldiers who served with him during that epic battle, five of whom McCloughan personally saved.