Three true American heroes are traveling to Lincolnton to share their stories of bravery and sacrifice Friday, Sept. 27. These heroes are Medal of Honor recipients, including retired Army Col. Walter “Joe” Marm, retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Patterson and retired U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Don “Doc” Ballard. This has been an annual event sponsored by the American Legion Post 30.
“People should attend because they’re meeting real American heroes, not sports heroes,” Dale Punch, a retired Marine and post commander of American Legion Post 30 in Lincolnton said. “These guys are a national treasure. There’s only 71 of them living out of the 3,400 plus medals awarded since the Civil War.”
Given there’s only 71 of living recipients, it can be difficult to get a group of them to attend an event like this, according to Punch.
Then-2nd Lt. Marm received his Medal of Honor for valor shown during the battle of la Drang in Vietnam in 1965, according to the Medal of Honor Society website. His platoon held a position along a dry creek bed while trying to reach one of their sister platoons, which had been cut off by the enemy. When Marm’s platoon was blocked by an enemy fire team and then a well-protected machine gun, he attacked alone to clear the way ahead. Although severely wounded, Marm’s selfless actions reduced the fire on his platoon, broke the enemy assault and rallied his unit to continue toward the accomplishment of this mission. The fighting during the first three days of the battle ultimately produced three Medal of Honor recipients and three recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross.
Patterson, who is the only living North Carolina recipient, distinguished himself in 1968 during an assault against a North Vietnamese Army battalion that was entrenched in a heavily fortified position, according to the Medal of Honor Society website. When the leading squad of the 3rd Platoon was pinned down by heavy interlocking automatic weaponry and rocket propelled grenade fire from two enemy bunkers, Patterson and the two other members of his assault team moved forward under a hail of enemy fire to destroy the bunkers with grenades and machine gun fire. Observing that his comrades were being fired on from a third enemy bunker covered by enemy gunners in l-man spider holes, Patterson, with complete disregard for his safety and ignoring the warning of his comrades that he was moving into a bunker complex, assaulted and destroyed the position.
Ballard, who has not been to Lincolnton for Medal of Honor Day yet, received his medal for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class with Company M, in connection with operations against enemy aggressor forces, according to the Medal of Honor Society website. During the afternoon hours, Company M was moving to join the remainder of the 3d Battalion in Quang Tri Province. After treating and evacuating two heat casualties, Ballard was returning to his platoon from the evacuation landing zone when the company was ambushed by a North Vietnamese Army unit employing automatic weapons and mortars, and sustained numerous casualties. Observing a wounded marine, Ballard unhesitatingly moved across the fire swept terrain to the injured man and swiftly rendered medical assistance to his comrade. Ballard then directed four marines to carry the casualty to a position of relative safety. As the four men prepared to move the wounded marine, an enemy soldier suddenly left his concealed position, and after hurling a hand grenade that landed near the casualty, commenced firing upon the small group of men. Instantly shouting a warning to the marines, Ballard fearlessly threw himself upon the lethal explosive device to protect his comrades from the deadly blast. When the grenade failed to detonate, he calmly arose from his dangerous position and resolutely continued his determined efforts in treating other marine casualties. Ballard's heroic actions and selfless concern for the welfare of his companions served to inspire all who observed him and prevented possible injury or death to his fellow marines. His courage, daring initiative, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of extreme personal danger, sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
The event will be on Friday, Sept. 27 at the James W. Warren Citizen’s Center at 10 a.m. It is free to attend and everyone is welcome. The Citizens Center is located at 115 West Main Street in Lincolnton.