Veterans

June 14, 2017
 

Michigan high school teacher, coach to receive Medal of Honor

David Vergun
Army News

U.S. Army Pfc. James McCloughan, 1969.

The White House announced June 13 that on July 31, President Donald Trump will present the Medal of Honor to Spec. 5 James C. McCloughan.

McCloughan’s valorous actions occurred during 48 hours of intense fighting against enemy forces on Nui Yon Hill near Tam K, South Vietnam, May 13 to 15, 1969. The combat medic was serving with Company C, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 196th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division.

A private first class at the time, McCloughan 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.”

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 K. 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 this 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 saving the lives of 10 members of his company.

McCloughan admitted that during the intense battle, it was surreal to be shooting at the enemy one moment and treating wounded North Vietnamese soldiers, as well as American Soldiers, the next.

U.S. Army Pfc. James McCloughan, posing in front of the Vietnam Regional Exchange Snack Shop, 1969.

Dream job deferred
McCloughan said that he never had his sights set on being in the military, much less becoming a hero. But when his country called him to serve, he said he willingly answered that call and later did what he had to do to save lives on the field of battle.

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, Mich. — the town where he was born. It was his dream job, he said.

A short time later, he received a draft notice. He entered the Army, Aug. 29, 1968. His teaching and coaching plans were put on hold while he served his two-year enlistment.

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.

Now 71 and retired, McCloughan said that during his time teaching and coaching, he never talked about his Vietnam experiences. He said many of those experiences were very painful and he has only recently opened up about them.




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