During 2019, Freedoms Foundation and the Friends of the Medal of Honor Grove are paying tribute to the 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 continues with a look at First Lt. Brian M. Thacker, an artillery officer whose unit came under attack on March 31, 1971, in Kontum Province, South Vietnam.
Brian Thacker’s Medal of Honor citation reads:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. 1st Lt. Thacker, Field Artillery, Battery A, distinguished himself while serving as the team leader of an Integrated Observation System collocated with elements of 2 Army of the Republic of Vietnam units at Fire Base 6.
“A numerically superior North Vietnamese Army force launched a well-planned, dawn attack on the small, isolated, hilltop fire base. Employing rockets, grenades, flame-throwers, and automatic weapons, the enemy forces penetrated the perimeter defenses and engaged the defenders in hand-to-hand combat.
“Throughout the morning and early afternoon, 1st Lt. Thacker rallied and encouraged the U.S. and Republic of Vietnam soldiers in heroic efforts to repulse the enemy. He occupied a dangerously exposed observation position for a period of 4 hours while directing friendly air strikes … against the assaulting enemy forces. His personal bravery and inspired leadership enabled the outnumbered friendly forces to inflict a maximum of casualties on the attacking enemy forces and prevented the base from being overrun.
“By late afternoon, the situation had become untenable. 1st Lt. Thacker organized and directed the withdrawal of the remaining friendly forces. With complete disregard for his safety, he remained inside the perimeter alone to provide covering fire with his M-16 rifle until all other friendly forces had escaped from the besieged fire base.
“Then, in an act of supreme courage, he called for friendly artillery fire on his own position to allow his comrades more time to withdraw safely from the area and, at the same time, inflict even greater casualties on the enemy forces.
“Although wounded and unable to escape from the area himself, he successfully eluded the enemy forces for 8 days until friendly forces regained control of the fire base.
“The extraordinary courage and selflessness displayed by 1st Lt. Thacker were an inspiration to his comrades and are in the highest traditions of the military service.”
In Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty, Peter Collier describes what happened after Thacker called in artillery on his own position:
” … in the ensuing chaos, he became cut off. Finding himself alone, he ran for cover deep in a heavily overgrown bamboo forest. He stayed there for the next eight days without food or water. The North Vietnamese were often so close around him that he could hear — and even smell — them. The bamboo canopy kept him cool during the cold mountain nights. Several days after the ARVN ranger unit retook the fire base, Thacker decided he could move to safety. Over a period of several hours, he slowly crawled from his bamboo refuge back to the fire base. He was medevaced out the next day, given medical treatment in Pleiku, and sent to Japan for hospitalization.
“By May, Thacker was back home. His father, [a career Air Force officer] who was stationed at an Air Force Base, told him of rumors that he had been recommended for the Medal of Honor, but Thacker didn’t think it was possible. Two years later, however, he received a phone call inviting him to the White House, where President Richard Nixon presented him with the medal on Oct. 15, 1973.”
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