NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — With the state’s rich history of war heroes, a Tennessean has received the Medal of Honor in nearly every conflict since the military decoration was first created in 1861.
Of the 32 recipients in Tennessee, five have been presented with the Medal of Honor for their service during the Vietnam War, and on Tuesday, Sept. 5, Capt. Larry Taylor, a former Cobra helicopter pilot, will be joining their ranks.
Taylor’s daring rescue of four soldiers surrounded by around 80 North Vietnamese is just one of the acts that has earned him and many others the Medal of Honor — the highest military decoration a person can receive.
Other Tennesseans like Sgt. Mitchell Stout have also been awarded for their courage in the face of danger during the Vietnam War, like when Stout picked up an enemy-thrown grenade and used his body to shield and protect his fellow soldiers.
The Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center in Chattanooga keeps a record of Medal of Honor recipients with their images and citations displayed in the Heritage Center’s Hall of Valor.
Below is a list of Tennessee Vietnam veterans who have received the Medal of Honor and information on their heroic actions from the Heritage Center.
- Rank: Sergeant
- Organization: U.S. Army
- Company: Battery C, 1st Battalion, 44th Artillery
- Action Place: Khe Gio Bridge, Republic of Vietnam (March 12, 1970)
- Born: February 24, 1950, Knoxville, Tennessee
Citation: Stout distinguished himself during an attack by a North Vietnamese Army Sapper company on his unit’s firing position at Khe Gio Bridge.
Stout was in a bunker with members of a searchlight crew when the position came under attack. When the intensity of the attack subsided, an enemy grenade was thrown into the bunker. Stout ran to the grenade, picked it up and started out of the bunker.
As he reached the door, the grenade exploded. By holding the grenade close to his body and shielding its blast, Stout protected his fellow soldiers in the bunker from further injury or death.
- Rank: Private First Class
- Organization: U.S. Army
- Company: Company A, 2d Battalion, 39th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division
- Action Place: Kieng Phong Province, Republic of Vietnam
- Born: April 18, 1948, Quality, Kentucky, enlisted in Nashville, Tennessee
Citation: Jenkins distinguished himself while serving as a machine gunner on a reconnaissance mission. When his company came under heavy fire, Jenkins unhesitatingly maneuvered forward to an exposed position and began placing suppressive fire on the enemy.
When his own machine gun jammed, he obtained a rifle and continued to fire into the enemy bunkers until his machine gun was made operative by his assistant. He repeatedly ran and crawled across open terrain to get resupplies of ammunition until he exhausted all supplies.
He then armed himself with two antitank weapons and, by himself, maneuvered within 20 meters of an enemy bunker to destroy that position. During the battle, Jenkins was seriously wounded by shrapnel but continued to aid his fellow troops.
Ignoring the continuing intense fire and his painful wounds, while also hindered by darkness, Jenkins made three trips to the beleaguered unit, each time pulling a wounded comrade back to safety. His spirit inspired his fellow soldiers to defeat the larger force.
After leaving the U.S. Army, Jenkins worked in coal mines until his retirement in 1999.
James A. Gardner
- Rank: First Lieutenant
- Organization: U.S. Army
- Company: Headquarters Company, 327th Infantry, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division
- Action Place: My Canh, Vietnam (February 7, 1966)
- Born: February 7, 1943, Dyersburg, Tennessee
Citation: Gardner’s platoon was advancing to relieve a company of the 1st Battalion that had been pinned down for several hours by a numerically superior enemy force in the village of My Canh, Vietnam.
Even as it moved to begin the attack, the platoon was under heavy enemy fire. Leading the assault, Gardner charged through a hail of fire across an open rice paddy and destroyed the first bunker with a grenade.
After destroying a second bunker, Gardner reached the third bunker, where an enemy gunner leaped forward and began firing at him. Gardner returned fire and killed the enemy gunner from a distance of six feet.
Following the seizure of the main enemy position, he reorganized the platoon to continue the attack. Advancing to the new assault position, the platoon was pinned down by an enemy machine gun emplaced in a fortified bunker.
Gardner dropped a grenade in the bunker and vaulted beyond, where he came under fire again. He was gravely wounded just before reaching the new source of fire, but with a last valiant effort, staggered forward and destroyed the bunker and its defenders with a grenade.
Although he fell dead on the rim of the bunker, his actions inspired the men of his platoon to resume the attack, and they completely routed the enemy. In 2009, Gardner’s sister donated his Medal of Honor to his former unit, the 101st Airborne, to be displayed in Fort Campbell.
David Robert Ray
- Rank: Hospital Corpsmen Second Class
- Organization: U.S. Navy
- Company: 2d Battalion, 11th Marines, 1st Marine Division
- Action Place: Quang Nam Province, Republic of Vietnam (March 19, 1969)
- Born: February 14, 1945, McMinnville, Tennessee
Citation: During the early morning hours, an estimated battalion-sized enemy force launched a determined assault against the battery’s position and penetrated the barbed-wire perimeter. The initial burst of enemy fire caused numerous casualties among the marines.
Undaunted by the intense fire, Ray moved from parapet to parapet, rendering emergency medical treatment to the wounded. Although seriously wounded himself while administering first aid to a marine, Ray refused medical aid and continued his lifesaving efforts.
While he was bandaging and attempting to comfort another wounded marine, Ray was forced to battle two enemy soldiers who attacked his position, killing one and wounding the other. Rapidly losing his strength, he still managed to move through the hail of enemy fire to other casualties.
Once again, he was faced with the intense fire of oncoming enemy troops and, despite the insurmountable odds, succeeded in treating the wounded and holding off the enemy until he ran out of ammunition and sustained fatal wounds.
Ray’s final act of heroism was to protect the patient he was treating. He threw himself on the wounded marine and saved the man’s life when an enemy grenade exploded nearby. Ray’s efforts served to inspire the men of Battery D in defeating the enemy.
Walter K. Singleton
- Rank: Sergeant
- Organization: U.S. Marine Corps
- Company: Company A, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, 3d Marine Division
- Action Place: Gio Linh District, Quang Tri Province, Republic of Vietnam (March 24, 1967)
- Born: December 7, 1944, Memphis, Tennessee
Citation: Singleton’s company was conducting combat operations when the lead platoon received intense small arms, automatic weapons, rocket, and mortar fire from a well-entrenched enemy force.
As the company fought its way forward, the extremely heavy enemy fire caused numerous friendly casualties. Sensing the need for early treatment of the wounded, Singleton moved from his relatively safe position and made numerous trips to rescue injured men.
Noting that a large part of the enemy fire was coming from a hedgerow, he got a machine gun and assaulted the enemy location, delivering devastating fire as he advanced. Although he was mortally wounded, his attack killed eight of the enemy and drove the remainder from the area.
Singleton’s bold actions completely disorganized the enemy defense and saved the lives of many of his comrades.