Some 100 students and staff members at North Lincoln High School got a rare opportunity Thursday as retired Army Col. Walter Joseph Marm Jr. â€” one of only 85 living Congressional Medal of Honor recipients â€” talked with them about his experiences and gave them encouragement to set high goals for themselves.
Marm was one of several Medal of Honor recipients speaking at Lincoln County Schools this week, sponsored by the American Legion.
Marm was only 23 years old when he was sent to Vietnam. Â Â â€œI didnâ€™t even know where Vietnam was at the time,â€ Marm told the students.
â€œI was just finishing up Army Ranger training when my orders were changed to be part of an air assault unit in Vietnam. We were allowed one phone call before we deployed.â€
On the morning of Nov. 14, 1965, then-1st Lieut. Marm was leading his 35-man platoon to rescue another platoon that had gotten separated and trapped by surrounding enemy soldiers in the Battle of Ia Drang. The book We Were Soldiers is based upon the events of that day.
As the platoon moved forward, they were forced to take cover. With limited ammunition, Marm knew they could not hold very long.
The official Medal of Honor citation for Marm reads:
â€œRealizing that his platoon could not hold very long, and seeing four enemy soldiers moving into his position, he moved quickly under heavy fire and annihilated all four. Then, seeing that his platoon was receiving intense fire from a concealed machine gun, he deliberately exposed himself to draws its fire. Thus locating its position, he attempted to destroy it with an anti-tank weapon. Although he inflicted casualties, the weapon did not silence the enemy fire. Quickly, disregarding the intense fire directed on him and his platoon, he charged 30 meters across open ground, and hurled grenades into the enemy position, killing some of the eight insurgents manning it. Although severely wounded, when his grenades were expended, armed with only a rifle, he continued the momentum of his assault on the position and killed the remainder of the enemy.â€
Marm told the students that being wounded that morning â€œkind of ruined my day.â€ He had been shot in the face, with a bullet entering his left jaw and traveling through his mouth before exiting his right jaw. â€œI thought I was infallible, just like you probably feel sitting there today,â€ Marm said.
He was evacuated and spent three months recuperating at an Army hospital, with one month being spent with his mouth wired shut. Marm joked that to this day, he drinks a milkshake nearly every day because of that experience.
Despite the wound and near-death experience, Marm returned to Vietnam for additional tours of duty. â€œI believed that I should pull my share of hardship duty. All my contemporaries had served multiple tours and I wanted to do my part,â€ Marm said, adding that he had to sign a waiver to return to the battle theater.
Marm was visibly moved by at least two of the student-painted murals on display in North Lincolnâ€™s auditorium. One of these shows a soldier kneeling beside the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.
â€œ450 soldiers went into battle on the morning of Nov. 16, 1965 and 79 of those were killed in action,â€ Marm said.
â€œThere are 58,000 names on that wall.â€
Looking at another student-painted mural of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, Marm related how one of the soldiers who was in the same Nov. 16 battle in Vietnam was head of security for Morgan-Stanley in the south tower on 9/11. Countermanding the orders for south tower occupants to â€œstay put,â€ he instructed them to evacuate, saving over 3,000 lives. Tragically, he went back inside to clear the south tower. His body was never recovered.
Marm encouraged the students to strive to become whatever they want to be and to help others along the way.
When one student asked how Marm overcame fears and uncertainties, he replied,
â€œI still have them. But my strong faith and prayer have helped me through. You have to wake up every day and continue on and do the best that you can.â€
Marm also told students that the most important responsibility they have is to help those who are less fortunate by getting involved in projects such as Habitat for Humanity and food drives.
Like many Medal of Honor recipients, Marm is incredibly humble. â€œThis is not just my medal. I wear it for all the brave soldiers in my unit. Iâ€™m the caretaker of the medal for my men.â€
About the Congressional Medal of Honor:
The medal was established in December 1861.
It is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States.
There have been 3,458 total recipients, 85 of whom are living. There have been 19 double recipients.
Of the 248 recipients during the Vietnam War, only 88 were living when awarded the medal. The remaining 160 were awarded posthumously.
There has been one female recipient, Mary Edwards Walker, a surgeon during the Civil War.
The most recent recipient was Sgt. Dakota Meyer, who was awarded the MOH on Sept. 15, 2011 for heroic actions in Afghanistan.
MARTHA K. SEAGLE, Staff Writer