On This Day in Medal of Honor History:
Gary Wetzel (Army, Vietnam)
During 2019, Freedoms Foundation and the Friends of the Medal of Honor Grove will pay tribute to living recipients of the Medal of Honor on the anniversary of the actions for which they earned the nation’s highest award for valor. The series begins with a look at Jan. 8, 1968 and Vietnam veteran Gary Wetzel, who is honored in the Wisconsin Area of the Medal of Honor Grove on the campus of Freedoms Foundation.
The Medal of Honor Citation for Gary Wetzel reads:
“Sp4c. Wetzel, 173d Assault Helicopter Company, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life. above and beyond the call of duty. Sp4c. Wetzel was serving as door gunner aboard a helicopter which was part of an insertion force trapped in a landing zone by intense and deadly hostile fire. Sp4c. Wetzel was going to the aid of his aircraft commander when he was blown into a rice paddy and critically wounded by 2 enemy rockets that exploded just inches from his location. Although bleeding profusely due to the loss of his left arm and severe wounds in his right arm, chest, and left leg, Sp4c. Wetzel staggered back to his original position in his gun-well and took the enemy forces under fire. His machinegun was the only weapon placing effective fire on the enemy at that time.
“Through a resolve that overcame the shock and intolerable pain of his injuries, Sp4c. Wetzel remained at his position until he had eliminated the automatic weapons emplacement that had been inflicting heavy casualties on the American troops and preventing them from moving against this strong enemy force. Refusing to attend his own extensive wounds, he attempted to return to the aid of his aircraft commander but passed out from loss of blood. Regaining consciousness, he persisted in his efforts to drag himself to the aid of his fellow crewman. After an agonizing effort, he came to the side of the crew chief who was attempting to drag the wounded aircraft commander to the safety of a nearby dike.
“Unswerving in his devotion to his fellow man, Sp4c. Wetzel assisted his crew chief even though he lost consciousness once again during this action. Sp4c. Wetzel displayed extraordinary heroism in his efforts to aid his fellow crewmen. His gallant actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.”
In the book Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty, author Peter Collier writes, “After Wetzel and the other survivors were rescued the next morning, he spent a week on the critical list. His arm was amputated in a field hospital, but he had to undergo another surgery in a Tokyo hospital because of infection. After about five months in hospitals, Wetzel began to learn how to live a productive civilian life with a prosthetic arm. …
“When asked what the medal means to him, Wetzel replied, ‘When I was in the Tokyo hospital, where the doctors took out more than four hundred stitches, some of the guys I pulled out who were recovering from their wounds found out I was there. They would walk up to my bed and ask, “Are you Gary Wetzel?” And I’d say, “Yeah,” and they would pull out pictures of their wives, kids, or girlfriends and say, “Hey, man, because of you, this is what I’ve got to go back to.” And then Wetzel would reply, “I’m not Superman. I was just a guy doing his job.”‘