James C. McCloughan, a Vietnam War medic and hero from South Haven, Michigan, is the first recipient of the Medal of Honor during President Donald Trump’s administration. The 71-year-old McCloughan was honored for his brave actions in May 1968, when he fought near Tam Kỳ. During the fighting the medic saved the lives of his fellow soldiers while still fighting and being wounded himself.
McCloughan also received two Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars for his service in the Army. He served in the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division. He is married to Chérie McCloughan and has two sons, Jamie and Matt, and a daughter, Kami. He also has a stepdaughter, Kara.
Here’s what you need to know about McCloughan.
1. McCloughan Is Being Honored for Risking His Life to Save 10 Soldiers During Fighting Near Tam Kỳ & Nui Yon Hill
Spc. 5 McCloughan is being honored for his actions during a 48-hour stretch on May 13 to 15, 1969 during fighting near Tam Kỳ and Nui Yon Hill, notes the Army. McCloughan was drafted into the army.
On May 13, 1969, two American helicopters were shot down, one of which crashed about 100 meters away from McCloughan, then 23, and Charlie Company. Despite enemy gunfire coming in his direction, McCloughan ran the 100 meters to save a soldier in the open field.
“I weaved and sprinted through the fire and slid in next to him like I was sliding into second base,” McCloughan said in an Army interview.
Later that same day, McCloughan saved two more soldiers after handing his weapon off to another. While he was treating the men, a rocket-propelled grenade exploded, wounding McCloughan himself. Still, McCloughan pulled the soldiers to safety in a trench. Even though he was bleeding, McCloughan refused to be evacuated from the battle and continued going back to save more men, defying orders.
On the second day of fighting, the company lost their only other medic. On the third day, he used a grenade to knock out an enemy RPG position and killed enemy soldiers while still treating the wounded. He is credited with saving 10 members of his company. During his service, he also earned the nickname “Doc.”
2. He Didn’t Plan on Joining the Army Before He Was Drafted
McCloughan had no interest in joining the Army before he was drafted. He told Army.mil that he wanted to become a teacher and athletics coach, since he had received a B.A. in sociology and a teaching certificate from Olivet College. In fact, South Haven High School even offered him a job, which he accepted.
But on August 29, 1968, he was drafted and ordered to report to basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. He was later sent to Fort Sam Houston, Texas for advanced individual training, where he learned to serve as a medic. After he completed training, he was told he’d be sent to Vietnam.
“My first thought about going to Vietnam was that my wife might lose her husband and my dad might lose his son,” he told Amry.mil. “Then I thought, ‘I’m tough. I’ll survive this.'”
McCloughan’s brother also served in the Air Force in Alaska. His brother wasn’t sent to Vietnam because he was married with a small child.
3. He Sustained Injuries While Saving the Lives of Other Men
McCloughan said he didn’t find basic training that tough since he was already in great shape. He credited his experience as a wrestler and football player with saving his life. He also said his experience in sports also played a role in his decision to keep fighting and saving the lives of other men while he was injured himself.
The Army notes that on the first day of fighting near Tam Kỳ and Nui Yon Hill, he was hit with shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade. His superior officer told him not to go back to save more men, but McCloughan did it anyway, going back four times. Even though he was bleeding profusely, he refused to be evacuated from the battle. On the second day of fighting, McCloughan was wounded again and still saved more men.
“Well, my father had a factor in this and athletics had a factor in this,” McCloughan told WBUR when asked about his decision to go back to save more men, despite his own injuries. “My father told me if I had a job to do, don’t do it halfway, and make sure you do it until the end, until it’s completed.”
McCloughan continued, “The other factor would be the athletics where, not only was it great that I was in good physical shape, but the mental discipline that I learned from those sports, I was allowed to focus and knew how to focus on what I had to do. Was I scared? Sure, I mean, I’m in a situation where I could die at any moment. But you had to keep your mind on what you were doing and evaluate the situation, how the wounds were, and then treat them and get them to safety as soon as possible.”
4. McCloughan Is Now a Retired Teacher Living in South Haven
After the war, McCloughan returned to South Haven to resume his career as a high school teacher. McCloughan, who is now retired, also coached wrestling, baseball and football, reports WOOD-TV.
His coaching career was exceptional, and McCloughan received a number of awards for his 38 years of coaching. He is a member of the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Michigan High School Coaches Hall of Fame and the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
McCloughlan told the local TV Station that he still has nightmares from his experiences.
“There’s a lot of people I couldn’t save,” he told WOOD-TV. “I’m not a hero. I just did my job. I’m not a hero. There’s a bunch of heroes there, a bunch of heroes. You know, any veteran will tell you the real heroes, they’re not here with us.”
The legislation that helped McCloughan get his Medal of Honor was introduced in the Senate by Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow. The bill was passed by the House and Senate. President Barack Obama approved the honor when he signed the annual defense authorization bill, Army Times notes.
“This medal is all about love,” McCloughan told the Army Times. “It’s a love story so deep in my soul that’s it’s truly immeasurable.”
5. McCloughan Is 1 of 72 Living Medal of Honor Recipients
McCloughan is one of 72 living Medal of Honor recipients. He is the 51st living Medal of Honor recipient for service in the Vietnam War.
Most Medal of Honor recipients are given their awards posthumously. Of the 248 Medals of Honor given for service in Vietnam before McCloughan received his, 156 of them were given posthumously.
After his actions at Tam Kỳ, McCloughan continued serving in the Army. A month after that battle, he volunteered to join another mission, fighting with a squad near LZ East in June 1969. As Army.mil notes, he didn’t return home until March 6, 1970. He then resumed his career as a teacher and coach.
“There is nobody I can think of who’s more honorable, more deserving of this award than Doc,” Bill Arnold, who served with McCloughan told NPR.
Here’s the full list of other awards and decorations McCloughan received:
- Bronze Star Medal with “V” device and Oak Leaf Cluster
Purple Heart with Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster
Good Conduct Medal
Vietnam Service Medal with three Bronze Service Stars
Army Valorous Unit Citation
National Defense Service Medal
Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with “60” Device
Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with palms and one Oak Leaf Cluster
Combat Medical Badge
M16 Expert Rifle Badge