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Above & Beyond

These pages are the results of a Medal of Honor research project by Eighth Graders at Sacred Heart Elementary School in Ville Platte, Louisiana.  Each student in the class adopted a Medal of Honor recipient from our Nation's history, researched his life, and then wrote the story you see here.

 Vietnam War (Continued)

Lance Peter Sijan

Captain Lance Peter Sijan died of pneumonia, wounds, and malnutrition in Hanoi’s Hoa Lo Prison on January 22, 1968.  Two months earlier he had ejected from his disabled aircraft and successfully evaded capture in the jungles of North Vietnam for six weeks.  During this time he was seriously wounded and suffering from shock and weight loss as he attempted to live off the land.  Once captured by the North Vietnamese, he overpowered one of his guards and crawled into the jungle again only to be retaken in a matter of hours.  Then kept in solitary confinement and interrogated at length by means of severe torture, Captain Sijan managed not to reveal any information to his captors. Finally, due to his state of delirium, he was placed into the care of fellow prisoners to whom he never complained of his physical condition and often spoke to of future escape attempts.  

The Medal of Honor was presented posthumously by President Gerald Ford to his parents. Lance Sijan is the only graduate of the Air Force Academy to receive our nation’s highest military honor.  I particularly admire this recipient because he epitomizes the kind of Air Force officer that our nation is training at the Academy.  I learned of Captain Sijan a few years ago when my son and daughter began attending the Academy and they spoke so admiringly of him.  

His standard of conduct as a Prisoner of War speaks of his strength of character as he acted on principle never knowing his actions would be rewarded.  I think this makes him a true American Hero because of his obvious devotion to duty, love of country, and complete disregard of self.  Would that many young people would follow his example and do the right thing even if it goes seemingly unnoticed. 

This tribute was written by Julia Fontenot, a teacher at Sacred Heart Elementary and coordinator of this eighth grade project


James Bond Stockdale

James B. Stockdale was a naval captain who was shot down during the Vietnam War.  He was brought to the Hoa Lo prisoner-of-war camp.  He was the senior officer in the camp and did a good job leading the other prisoners.  During his prison stay he was singled out for interrogation and attendant torture after he was detected in a covert communications attempt.  When the Vietnamese tried to use Stockdale for propaganda objectives, he cut his head with a razor and hit himself with a leg of a chair.  As a result, they put him back in his cell without an interrogation.  

In doing what he did, he endured physical pain to set an example to the other inmates.  In an attempt to send messages to other men in the prison, Stockdale was caught.  The Vietnamese told him he would be tortured the next day, and the only escape was death.  In an effort to escape the affliction, Stockdale took a light bulb and broke it in his hands.  He cut his wrists causing himself to faint.  He was surprised as he woke up to be in the company of the leader of the prison.  The leader told Stockdale that he had won, and there would be better living conditions. 

I believe this man, Captain Jim Stockdale, is a true American hero because of his willingness to lay his life on the line to set an example and save his fellow prisoners.  His courage to endure physical and mental anguish showed his loyalty to his country and his camaraderie with his friends.  This man should be a true role model for kids because of his great love for our country. 


Jay R. Vargas

Jay R. Vargas was a major in the United States Marine Corps, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Amphibious Brigade during the Vietnam War.  While Major Jay Vargas was in action against enemy forces from April 30 to May 2, 1968, he was awarded the greatest medal given in the US Military, the Medal of Honor.  On May 1, 1968, though suffering from wounds he had incurred while relocating his unit under heavy enemy fire the preceding day, Maj. Vargas combined Company G with two other companies and he led his men in an attack on the village of Dai Do.  Being an expert leader, he moved his marines across 700 meters of open rice fields while under intense enemy mortar, rocket, and artillery fire and obtained a foothold in two rows on the enemy territory.  

After a little while, the intense enemy fire pinned down elements of his company. Leading his reserve platoon to the aid of his beleaguered men, Major Vargas inspired his men to renew their relentless advances. They destroyed a number of enemy bunkers. While being wounded by grenade fragments, Jay refused aid as he moved through a hazardous area reorganizing his unit into a strong defensive company at the edge of the village.  Company G was attacked many times during the night but still stood very strong.  They were reinforced the following morning.  The marines launched a renewed assault through Dai Do on the village Dinh To, to which the enemy retaliated with a massive counter attack resulting in hand-to-hand combat.

Maj. Vargas remained in the open, encouraging and rendering assistance to his men when he was hit for the third time in the three-day battle.  Noticing his battalion commander had sustained a serious wound; he disregarded his own pain, crossed the fire swept area, and carried his commander to a covered position.  Then Maj. Vargas resumed supervising and encouraging his company while simultaneously assisting in organizing the battalion’s perimeter defense.  His remarkable actions uphold the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the US Naval Service.  I admire Major Jay Vargas for putting his life on the line for other people and for his incredible heroism in the Marine Corps.


Charles J. Watters

On the morning of November 19,1967, Major Charles J. Watters, a Roman Catholic priest from New Jersey, had celebrated mass with the men of the 2nd Battalion before they started up Hill 875 in Dak To, Vietnam.  In the months before Dak To, Father Watters had been a comfort for many of the weary men of the 173rd Brigade. When a wounded soldier had frozen in shock in front of the enemy, Father Watters ran forward, picked the man up by his shoulders, and carried him to safety.  Six times he went beyond the perimeter, with complete disregard for his safety, to retrieve wounded men, braving heavy enemy fire.  Unarmed and completely exposed, he did this without hesitation and ignored attempts to restrain him.  

In the late afternoon, with so many men lying wounded in the hot sun, Father Watters continued to perform his duties by assisting the medics in applying field bandages to open wounds, tending to the needs of the men by obtaining and serving food and water, and by giving spiritual and mental comfort in administering the last rites. Father Watters was giving aid to the wounded when he himself was mortally wounded.  

Father Watters’ selfless devotion to his comrades was in keeping with the highest traditions of the U. S. Army.  He courageously sacrificed his own life to put the needs of others before him.  Because Father Watters unselfishly saw to the needs of his comrades on Hill 875, both physically and mentally, he is one of the most outstanding and deserving persons to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.


Hilliard Almond Wilbanks

Captain Hilliard Wilbanks served in the U.S. Air Force in the Vietnam War near Dalat. He entered the service in Atlanta, Georgia and was born in Cornelia, Georgia.  His actions took place on Friday, February 24, 1967, and he was killed in his actions at the age of thirty-three.  

While serving as a forward air controller, flying an unarmed light aircraft above the heads of a group of army rangers, he could see the ranger unit was coming under enemy fire.  To protect and take the enemy attention off the army rangers, Captain Wilbanks began making very low passes over the enemy while sticking his own .50 caliber machine gun out of the window of his aircraft and firing profusely.  Captain Wilbanks did this many times causing many numerous casualties and taking enemy attention off of the rangers and allowing them to get to safety.  On what was to be his last pass, his aircraft was shot down causing his death.  

In doing these actions Captain Wilbanks was recognized and received the Medal of Honor.  The medal was later presented to his wife.  He received the Medal of Honor for worrying only about his fellow soldiers and not himself.  I admire this man because he died just to protect and save the lives of his fellow soldiers.


Gerald O. Young

Captain Gerald O. Young distinguished himself while serving as a helicopter rescue commander in Vietnam.  He was attempting the night rescue of an Army ground reconnaissance team that was in danger of death or capture.  The first helicopter was able to extract three of the stranded team members before it was severely damaged.  Captain Young hovered under intense fire until the remaining survivors were aboard.  As he was leaving the area, the helicopter was hit by enemy fire and crashed, inverted, and burst into flames.  Despite intense pain from third degree burns, Captain Young aided one of the wounded men and attempted to lead the enemy away from the downed aircraft.  For more than seventeen hours he evaded the enemy until a rescue aircraft could be brought into the area.  

Captain Gerald O. Young is an American hero because he showed extraordinary courage in the line of fire.  He put the safety of others above concern for himself.  His actions should inspire us all to be more courageous.


Gary Gordon

Gary Gordon was born on August 30,1960.  He was a master sergeant.  He received the Medal of Honor in 1994 for his bravery in Somalia.  He was dropped from his helicopter with a fellow soldier to help a downed and wounded pilot.  No one made him go; he volunteered.  He risked his life to go and save a fellow soldier.  That is why he is deemed a hero.  When he was on the ground, he gave some ammunition to the hurt helicopter pilot.  That was what saved the man’s life.  Not a soul knows what was going through his mind, but he gave his life for another person.  He went above and beyond the call of duty.  That is true bravery.  He was a sniper team leader from the state of Maine.  So as an excellent marksman, he was able to hold off the attacking Somalians for a period of time before he himself was killed.  He was awarded the medal after the pilot told the story.  

He is my hero because he risked his life for another person.  That takes a lot of guts to do what Gary Gordon did.  That is why he is a true American hero.


Randy Shughart

I picked Randy Shughart because he chose to go down to the overcrowded streets in Somalia to save one downed and wounded pilot.  He could have said that he didn’t want to, and nobody would have thought any less of him.  People like Shughart realize in time of war, courage and heroism are needed.  Randy Shughart and his partner, Gary Gordon, thought up the plan to get help to the downed pilot.  It was not an order.  

By his choice to do this, Shughart was willing to give up his life for his country.  In time of war, when you look to your right, there is someone coming at you from your left, and when you look up to your left, there is someone coming at you from your right.  Shughart and Gordon worked their way to the pilot.  Randy Shughart ran out of ammo, and was killed.  His partner also got killed.  The pilot was brought to safety eventually, after being captured, and went home (two days after Shughart’s and Gordon’s bodies).  Their defense saved his life.  I admire Randy Shughart because he had the courage to do what hardly any other man or woman would do.



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