With the Medal of Honor making recent headlines -- and Dakota Meyer joining the Maxim squad as their Military Advisor -- it seems like an ideal time to showcase some of the brave warfighters of conflicts past who have also been awarded this meritorious honor. This week, I wanted to focus on the Vietnam War and specifically, the Navy's Hospital Corpsman and the Army's Combat Medic, a military occupation very near and dear to my heart.
When individuals join the Medical Corps, either as medics or corpsman, they must first prove themselves on the battlefield before they can be called, "Doc." Here are six amazing stories of men who earned their title of Doc and, in doing so, earned the Nation's highest honor.
These six men joined the military as non-combatants, most of them were drafted, and one even fled to Canada until he could be assured a position as a medic. The stories behind these brave first responders (many awarded this distinguished honor posthumously) feature incredible feats of human endurance, will-power, and determination.
As Shakespeare wrote, "We few, we happy few, we Band of Brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother". These brave warriors risked and, at times, sacrificed their lives. They endured excruciating pain and hardship to treat, secure, and save the lives of their comrades, all in the name of brotherhood.
Corporal Thomas W. Bennett - Morgantown, WV
Combat Medic - Army
Heroic Activity: 2/9/69 - 2/11/69
The year was 1969, and Corporal Bennett found himself in Vietnam as the platoon medic for 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion of the 14th Infantry - a truly strange place to find a conscientious objector in the late 60's, as Bennett was deeply religious and completely against killing. Even though he was against the war, he wanted to serve his country and help his fellow citizens. This desire had led him to sign up as an Army combat medic and leave his hometown of Morgantown to head off to war.
On the 9th of February, Bennett's platoon was moving to assist their fellow soldiers from Delta Company, which had run into an ambush by the enemy and was under intense fire from every weapon known to man. On arriving at the fire-fight, the three point-men in Bennett's platoon fell wounded from small arms fire. Immediately springing into action, Doc Bennett ran through a barrage of incoming fire to assist his brothers, giving them life-saving aid as the enemy did all they could to take him out.
Throughout the rest of the day and into the night, Bennett moved all over the battlefield, from one soldier to the next, treating the wounded and providing comfort in the form of much needed morphine. He even dragged the bodies of the fallen soldiers to safety, adhering to the military vow, "Never Leave a Fallen Comrade."
On the 11th, Bravo Company again moved to assault the enemy, who was dug into a well-fortified position, and fire rained down on them from an enemy with far superior numbers. Immediately, five members of the assault team fell wounded, and Doc hustled to their aid, disregarding the heavy fire falling all around him. He treated one of the wounded, then became aware of another far more seriously wounded man and attended to his aid, his position on the battlefield far forward of friendly forces. His fellow soldiers then stopped Bennett and told him it was suicide, that he couldn't help that soldier. Doc was hearing none of this and leapt forward, with complete disregard for his own safety, to save his brother-in-arms. During this attempt, Bennett was mortally wounded.
For these incredible, selfless acts of heroism and for saving the lives of a dozen men, Corporal Thomas "Doc" Bennett was awarded, posthumously, the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Corpsman 3rd Class Wayne Caron - Middleboro, MA
Hospital Corpsman - Navy
Heroic Activity: 7/28/68
The Marines don't have medical personnel, so they grab them from the Navy and make them their own in a way fitting to the Marines' storied history. Hospital Corpsman are tough as nails, they are that way because there is no other way. This is the story of one of those hard-as-steel Corpsmen.
On the 28th of July, Caron and his platoon, the men of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment of the 1st Division, were doing a sweep of a rice field when all hell broke loose. Before they could call the direction of incoming fire, two Marines fell wounded and Doc Caron jumped into action. He braved enemy fire to get to the Marines' side, but they were dead before they hit the ground.
The battle continued to rage and the Marines were taking heavy casualties. Over the deafening sounds of battle, Doc could hear the voices of his friends, "Doc! Corpsman!" and it spurred him on. Moving forward to their positions, Caron was struck in the arm - the blood flowing, the pain intense - and he was knocked to the ground. Regaining his feet, Doc forced his way through the pain and continued towards the first voice. The Marine, grievously wounded, lay under his hands as Caron rendered aid. Doc stabilized him, and then was moving towards the next fallen man when he was shot again, this time in the leg.
Nonetheless, Doc shuffled forward, crawling the remaining distance, and treated the wounded Marine. Still more cries echoing out, "Doc! Help Me!" so Caron crawled further still and, for the third time, was shot by enemy small-arms fire. Courageously and with iron-clad determination, Doc struggled towards another wounded man. The rocket round screeched in before anyone could warn Doc, then exploded and took the life of this hero.
Because of his steadfast determination, valor, and extraordinary dedication to his fellow Marines, Wayne "Doc" Caron was awarded, posthumously, the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Specialist Donald Evans, Jr. - Covina, CA
Combat Medic - Army
Heroic Activity: 1/27/67
Assigned out of Covina, California, to the 4th Infantry Division, 12th Regiment, 2nd Battalion, Alpha Company, Specialist Evans found himself engaged in one helluva fire-fight in Tri Tam, Vietnam, in the winter of 1967. While some of Evans' friends were heading back to college after winter break, Evans and his Company were pinned down, dug into a position, and steel rain was pouring in from seemingly all over. Wounded men littered the field ahead of them, many of them screaming for aid, "Medic!" Evans, dashing over 100 meters through a wide-open field through a withering hail of bullets and exploding grenades, found his first patient and began his life-saving aid. He then moved to the next wounded soldiers, all while fully exposed to enemy fire.
After realizing that the wounds of one of the casualties needed immediate attention, Evans dragged the soldier to safety, back across the bullets and grenades. Over the same 100 meters of open field, Doc hauled this man to a place behind the lines to be evacuated by chopper.
Miraculously escaping the wall of lead, Evans knew that he needed to return and assist the others, so he went back to the forward position and began treating the wounded. A blast of hot, supersonic metal then pelted Doc's body, but he succeeded in evacuating yet another wounded soldier. Refusing to treat his own wounds, Evans continued his mission to brave the open field and drag his friends back to safety. It was during his fourth trip that he was severely wounded.
Upon returning yet again with another seriously wounded man, his body riddled with holes and shrapnel, Doc started out again, ignoring the pleas to remain behind. Disregarding his extremely painful injuries and seriously weakened from losing most of his blood, Evans continued his life-saving medical aid to those soldiers pinned down by enemy fire and was killed treating his brothers-in-arms.
For these feats of human dedication and determination in the face of certain death, Specialist Donald "Doc" Evans, Jr. was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Corpsman 3rd Class Robert Ingram - Clearwater, FL
Hospital Corpsman - Navy
Heroic Activity: 3/28/66
In Quang Ngai Province, Vietnam, Robert Ingram had been serving for eight months as a corpsman attached to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment when Hell unleashed its fury against Ingram's Marines. Ingram accompanied the point-platoon as it aggressively dispatched an outpost of an entire North Vietnamese Battalion. The sheer momentum of this attack pushed both fighting forces off the ridge-line and down a tree-covered slope to a small rice paddy and a village just beyond it. As Ingram's platoon continued to force a retreat of the NVA Battalion into the village, the entire tree-line opened up with a solid wall of bullets from the automatic rifle fire of about 100 North Vietnamese regulars. In the blink of an eye, the battle turned and the entire point-platoon was decimated.
Above the roar of the weapons fire, calls for "Corpsman!" echoed across the ridge and triggered Doc into action. He grabbed his gear and crawled across the bullet-spattered terrain to reach a wounded warrior. Ingram was kneeling beside one Marine, administering aid, when a bullet cut through the palm of his own hand. Blood gushed forth as his heart raced and the adrenaline pumped throughout his body. Pushing the pain from his mind, Doc edged across the fire-swept landscape, collecting ammunition from the dead, handing it off to the wounded and providing the life-saving interventions he was trained to do.
Continuing to make his way through the battlefield, Ingram was wounded twice more. The third wound was life-threatening, which gave Doc pause and he looked for a way off the ridge; however, the calls for "Corpsman!" continued and Doc knew his brothers were dying, so he resolutely answered.
Though gravely wounded three times, Doc pressed on, rendering aid to those incapable until he finally reached the right-flank of the platoon. While dressing the severe head wound of another corpsman, Ingram sustained yet another, fourth wound. From 1600 hrs (4pm) that afternoon until just prior to sunset, Doc pushed, pulled, dragged, heaved and doctored the lives of his fellow Marines.
Enduring the searing pain from his many wounds and completely disregarding the high probability of his demise, Robert "Doc" Ingram's intrepid actions saved the lives of countless Marines and earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Specialist-6 Lawrence Joel - Winston-Salem, NC
Combat Medic - Army
Heroic Activity: 11/8/65
Just missing his chance to serve in World War II, Lawrence Joel, at age 18, joined the U. S. Army in 1946 and ended up serving in both the Korean and the Vietnam War with gallantry. This story relates to Joel's heroism during his deployment with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, 503rd Infantry in Vietnam.
Very quickly, the platoon was hit by an ambush, and the soldiers were outnumbered 6 to 1. After having treated the wounded from the initial burst of gunfire, Doc bravely crawled forward to assist other wounded. While proceeding to the objective during this courageous move forward, Doc was shot through the right leg. After treating his wounds by self-administering morphine to allow continued movement, Doc's desire to aid his brothers transcended all thoughts of self-preservation.
Throughout this period of time, Doc was shouting words of encouragement to his wounded platoon of friends, who were scattered around him. He continued his efforts in treating the wounded, engrossed in his life-saving mission. Doc seemed oblivious to the bullets digging up the dirt around him as he kneeled, raising the plasma bottle high in the air. It was then that he was struck down a second time - again in the leg, but higher, the bullet lodged in his thigh. However, Doc persevered in treating his men, 13 more in all, until his supplies ran dry. Displaying resourcefulness, he used a plastic bag to cover and seal the severe, sucking chest wound of one soldier, saving his life.
After having acquired a new stock of medical supplies, Doc reconvened his efforts in crawling amidst the hail of gunfire, providing first-aid and encouraging his brothers. Twenty-four hours later, with more than 410 enemy dead, the evacuation was finally ordered. During this intense and ferocious battle, Doc never once lost sight of his mission as a combat medic, and he had continued to treat and comfort the wounded until his own evacuation was ordered.
It is for this astounding, amazing and meticulous attention to duty, as well as his unwavering and daring dedication to his men, that Specialist-Six Lawrence "Doc" Joel was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Saved the Best for Last...
Private First-Class Kenneth Michael Kays - Mount Vernon, IL
Combat Medic - Army
Heroic Activity: 5/7/70
Many times it is surprising to discover who actually has what it takes to accomplish these heroic feats, and so it is with the story of PFC Kenneth Michael Kays. Kays was completely against the war in Vietnam and, like many others during that period in history, fled to Canada to avoid the draft - that is, until he was assured a position as a non-combatant, a medic. Kays was then sent to the infamous 101st Airborne, "The Screaming Eagles", and was assigned to the 1st Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
By May of 1970, he found himself in the Thua Thien-Hue Province of Vietnam, serving as the combat medic for Delta Company. The Company's defensive position was assaulted by a heavily armed force of enemy sappers (basically a crazed force of explosive-junkies that love to blow the hell out of shit) and infantrymen, who immediately wounded or killed a number of Kay's platoon brothers.
Disregarding the intense and effective enemy fire, Doc began moving towards their position to assist his fallen friends. While doing this, Kays was cut down by concentrated enemy fire and explosions, which severed his leg just below the knee. After having applied a tourniquet to slow the outpouring of blood, Doc set out again to the fire-swept perimeter and administered aid, then dragged himself and his casualty to relative safety. Despite having been blown apart and enduring an unimaginable amount of pain and psychological trauma associated with losing a limb, Doc returned to the perimeter in search of other wounded men in need of his care.
Doc found another wounded soldier and then as if by instinct, used his own body to shield his friend from a burst of incoming enemy fire and fragments of exploding grenades. He then dragged and pulled his brother to safety. Although weakened from the loss of a massive amount of blood, Doc resumed his heroic lifesaving efforts by moving beyond his Company's perimeter and into enemy-held territory where under threat of imminent execution by dozens of highly trained sappers and infantrymen, he treated yet another wounded soldier, saving his life.
Only after the assault was finally abated and all of his fellow brothers-in-arms were treated and prepped for transport did Doc "Total-Bad-Ass" Kays allow his comrades to treat his life-threatening wounds.
Because of his actions against all odds - his heroic, shocking and down-right jaw-dropping determination and all-around super-heroic feats - Private First Class Kenneth "Doc" Kays was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.