Last month U.S. Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow along with Congressman Fred Upton announced that President Trump would award the Medal of Honor to Vietnam War Veteran James C. McCloughan. The award will be presented at a ceremony on July 31, 2017. This follows legislation passed by Senators Stabenow and Peters and Congressman Upton to make then-Private First-Class McCloughan eligible for our nation’s highest military honor. Their legislation passed the Senate as part of the National Defense Authorization Act and was signed into law
McCloughan will be recognized for his valorous actions that occurred during 48 hours of intense fighting against enemy forces on Nui Yon Hill near Tam Kỳ, South Vietnam from May 13 to 15, 1969. The combat medic was serving with Company C, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 196th Infantry Brigade, (Americal) Division.
McCloughan was a private first class when he voluntarily risked his life to rescue wounded and disoriented personnel. Despite being personally wounded by shrapnel and small-arms fire, McCloughan refused medical evacuation. Instead, he opted to stay with his unit, where he continued to brave enemy fire so that he could rescue, treat, and defend his wounded comrades.
While moving the wounded onto medical evacuation helicopters, his platoon leader ordered him to join them. But he said he disobeyed the order, telling the lieutenant, “You’re going to need me.” He was one of the company medics.
The next day, elements of his battalion were getting probed by the North Vietnamese army. His own platoon had stood down and was recovering in the relatively quiet sector of Landing Zone Center, also in the vicinity of Tam Kỳ. McCloughan joined another platoon for a scouting mission. The platoon was ambushed and the other platoon medic was killed, leaving McCloughan as the sole medical specialist in the company.
Through intense battle, McCloughan was wounded a second time by small arms fire, and shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade while rendering aid to two soldiers in an open rice paddy.
In the final phases of the attack, two companies from the NVA and an element of 700 soldiers from a Viet Cong regiment descended upon Company C’s position on three sides. McCloughan, again with complete disregard for his life, went into the crossfire numerous times throughout the battle to extract wounded soldiers, while also fighting the enemy.
In the early morning of May 15, McCloughan knocked out an RPG position with a grenade. He continued to fight, treat casualties, and eliminate enemy soldiers until he collapsed from dehydration and exhaustion.
During the battle, 17 men were lost to enemy fire, and many more were wounded, he said. Over the 48-hour battle, McCloughan risked his life on nine separate occasions and is credited with personally saving the lives of 10 members of his company.
Returning to his dream job
McCloughan graduated in June 1968 from Olivet College in Michigan, with a degree in sociology and a teaching certificate. He received an offer to teach and coach football at South Haven High School in South Haven, Michigan the town where he was born. It was his dream job, he said.
Shortly after accepting the position, he received a draft notice. He entered the Army on August 29, 1968, putting his teaching and coaching plans on hold.
In 1970, he returned home and was re-accepted at South Haven High School, where for 40 years he taught psychology, sociology, and geography. He also coached football, wrestling, and baseball.
McCloughan was inducted into the Michigan High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Michigan High School Football Association Coaches Hall of Fame, the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the Olivet College Athletic Hall of Fame.
Legislation and the MOH
By regulation, Medal of Honor recipients must be honored within five years of the act of heroism justifying the award. The legislation passed by Senators Stabenow, Peters, and Congressman Upton waived the five-year requirement and made it possible for the President to award the Medal of Honor to McCloughan.
Then-Private First Class McCloughan was highly decorated, receiving the Combat Medical Badge, two Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars with “V” device for valor, the U. S. Army Valorous Unit Citation, the National Defense Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with three battle stars, the Vietnam Campaign Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with palms and one oak leaf cluster, and the M16 Expert Rifle Badge. Before his enlistment was completed, he had risen to the rank of Specialist (Spec) 5.
Now he will add one more to his impressive list of awards, our country’s highest, the Congressional Medal of Honor.