Medal Monday: Honoring James McCloughan and Purple Heart Day
Rank: Specialist Five
Organization: U.S. Army
Company: Company C, 3rd Battalion
Division: 21st Infantry, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, American Division
Conflict: Vietnam War
Date of Action: 5/13 – 5/15/1969
Date of Issue: 7/31/2017
Medal Presented By: President Donald Trump
Tomorrow, August 7, is the 236th anniversary of the Purple Heart, the oldest military decoration still awarded today. General George Washington created the Badge for Military Merit in 1782, to honor soldiers that show “not only instances of unusual gallantry, but also of extraordinary fidelity and essential service.” The award fell into disuse but was revived as today’s Purple Heart in 1932 on the bicentennial of George Washington’s birthday, under the tenure of General Douglas MacArthur.
The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the Armed Forces who have been wounded or killed in action. Today, we honor a recipient of the Medal of Honor and two Purple Hearts: Specialist Five James McCloughan.
Prior to being drafted into the Army in August of 1968, James C. McCloughan was a teacher and coach at South Haven High School in Michigan. He was sent to Vietnam in March 1969 as a combat medic.
On May 13, 1969, McCloughan’s company began a three-day campaign providing air support to an area near Tam Ky and Nui Yon Hill. The company came under fire from a much larger North Vietnamese and Viet Cong force surrounding them on three sides. Two helicopters were shot down by enemy fire, and McCloughan was sent with a squad to locate one crew. He bravely ran into an open field under fire from both sides to rescue and carry a downed soldier to safety.
Later, McCloughan’s 2nd platoon was ambushed on a reconnaissance mission near Nui Yon Hill. As airstrikes targeted the enemy, McCloughan spotted two unarmed U.S. soldiers from his spot in the trenches. With utter disregard for his own safety, he handed off his weapon and pulled the soldiers to safety. He was in the process of assessing their injuries when he was hit by shrapnel. Despite his injuries, he ignored orders to remain in the trench and reentered the “kill zone” multiple times, rescuing four more injured soldiers, demonstrating great courage and determination. McCloughan prepared the wounded for evacuation by helicopter and refused treatment for his own injuries, telling his commanding officer that he would be needed in the field.
The next day, the medic of the 1st platoon was killed in an ambush in the same location, leaving McCloughan as the sole medic in the company. McCloughan repeatedly entered the field under fire from all sides to retrieve and treat wounded men. In this battle, McCloughan was wounded again by shrapnel and small arms fire, but he stalwartly refused to leave his unit without a medic and continued to fight the enemy and treat injured soldiers. That night, McCloughan selflessly volunteered to risk his own position and hold a light in the open to receive a supply drop.
On May 15, he continued to fight while ensuring two seriously wounded soldiers remained alive through the night for a dawn evacuation. McCloughan is credited with saving the lives of at least 10 soldiers in his company. His dedication to service and his fellow soldiers led to him receiving the Bronze Star Medal with a “V” for valor – the fourth highest military decoration – and a nomination for the Distinguished Service Cross. He was awarded two Purple Hearts due to his two severe wounds in battle.
Upon returning to civilian life in 1970, McCloughan continued teaching and pursued a degree in counseling and psychology, which he then taught at South Haven High School. He retired in 2008 and received the Michigan Education Association’s 40 years of service award. On July 7, 2017, Specialist Five McCloughan’s Distinguished Service Cross was upgraded to a Medal of Honor, the award was presented to him by President Donald Trump. James McCloughan’s dedication to service to others despite personal cost, both in the Army and throughout his civilian life, are exemplary of the values of the Medal of Honor and the Purple Heart.
James McCloughan is one of the 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients whose combat valor and civic heroics will be enshrined in the National Medal of Honor Museum at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, SC. These heroes deserve a home for their legacy to be shared with the next generations.
As the only military museum to recognize all branches of the armed services, it will highlight the fact that the recipients of our nation’s highest military award not only defended our country, they were instrumental in developing, designing, and enriching it.
The museum will be a vault for the values embodied in the medal: courage, sacrifice and patriotism. It will showcase the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation Character Development Program, including living histories of over 100 recipients. It will also house the Citizens Heroes Program honoring ordinary citizens who have epitomized the concept of “service above self”.
Americans will walk out of that museum with the conviction that they too can be a hero, inspired by the values of courage and sacrifice that the Medal of Honor recipients used to excel in combat and in civilian life. Learn more at mohmuseum.org.