Bravery and Wisdom: Remembering Our Heroes on Memorial Day Weekend, Part One


“You going to use this weapon?”

Richard A. Pittman was born on May 26, 1945 in French Camp, California.  He was a Lance Corporal, U.S. Marines, Company I, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division.  He was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Johnson in May of 1968 for his exceptional bravery in 1966.  During one of the North Vietnamese Army’s first incursions into South Korea, Pittman’s company came under heavy fire.  For the account of the events which followed, I quote from a book I open every Memorial Day–Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyold the Call of Duty (Nick Del Calzo, photographs, Peter Collier, text, Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation,  2006).

“As Pittman and a Navy corpsman started forward, he almost collided with a Marine standing in the trail holding an M-60 machine gun. ‘You going to use this weapon?’ Pittman asked. The Marine stared back blankly. Pittman grabbed the gun and several belts of ammunition and moved toward the heaviest fighting. He was surprised by the number of dead and wounded Marines littering both sides of the trial. When his helmet was shot off his head, he hit the dirt. He saw the corpsman get up and try to go to a wounded man, but he was hit and went down. As Pittman continued on, he quickly destroyed the two positions that shot at him. Then, standing up, cradling the machine gun in the crook of his arm and firing as he went, Pittman moved to the head of the column where the North Vietnamese regulars were rushing his beleaguered comrades. As he reached the position where the leading Marines had fallen, he was suddenly attacked by thirty to forty of the enemy. He calmly established a position in the middle of the trail and, with bullets whizzing past his head, he raked the advancing evemy with devastating machine-gun fire. He continued firing until he felt a concussion on his side. At first he thought he had been wounded, but his gun had been struck by enemy fire and disabled. He dropped it and picked up an AK-47 that one of the enemy soldiers had left; he continued firing until he was out of ammunition. Next he picked up a .45 pistol left by a fallen Marine and used it to kill two enemy soldiers as they were almost on top of him. Finally out of ammunition altogether, he threw his only grenade. Inexplicably, the remaining North Vietnamese retreated. Back at his own lines, he discovered that two-thirds of his company had been killed or wounded in the intense engagement” (p.211).

The article further described that Pittman reenlisted in the Marines after a short stint in civilian life, serving a total of twenty-one years.

This weekend finds me grateful for the men and women of our Armed Forces–particularly those like Richard A. Pittman.

Mr. Pittman, if you happen to come across this blog someday, thank you so much for doing what you could do for your country.


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