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 March 14, 1969, when Joseph R. Kerrey’s SEAL team came under attack during a mission near Nha Trang Bay in South Vietnam.
Bob Kerrey’s Medal of Honor citation reads:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a SEAL team leader during action against enemy aggressor (Viet Cong) forces.
“Acting in response to reliable intelligence, Lt. (J.G..) Kerrey led his SEAL team on a mission to capture important members of the enemy’s area political cadre known to be located on an island in the bay of Nha Trang. In order to surprise the enemy, he and his team scaled a 350-foot sheer cliff to place themselves above the ledge on which the enemy was located.
“Splitting his team in 2 elements and coordinating both, Lt. (J.G..) Kerrey led his men in the treacherous downward descent to the enemy’s camp. Just as they neared the end of their descent, intense enemy fire was directed at them, and Lt. (J.G.) Kerrey received massive injuries from a grenade which exploded at his feet and threw him backward onto the jagged rocks.
“Although bleeding profusely and suffering great pain, he displayed outstanding courage and presence of mind in immediately directing his element’s fire into the heart of the enemy camp. Utilizing his radioman, Lt. (J.G.) Kerrey called in the second element’s fire support which caught the confused Viet Cong in a devastating crossfire.
“After successfully suppressing the enemy’s fire, and although immobilized by his multiple wounds, he continued to maintain calm, superlative control as he ordered his team to secure and defend an extraction site. Lt. (J.G.) Kerrey resolutely directed his men, despite his near unconscious state, until he was eventually evacuated by helicopter.
“The havoc brought to the enemy by this very successful mission cannot be over-estimated. The enemy soldiers who were captured provided critical intelligence to the allied effort.
“Lt. (J.G.) Kerrey’s courageous and inspiring leadership, valiant fighting spirit, and tenacious devotion to duty in the face of almost overwhelming opposition sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.”
Peter Collier, in Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Above and Beyond the Call of Duty, continues the story:
“The helicopter sent to extract the SEALs and their captives couldn’t land on the island, so Kerrey was placed in a sling and pulled up to the hovering craft. He was treated first in Japan, and then in Philadelphia. Doctors were unable to save his leg when gangrene set in, and it was amputated at the knee.
“Wearing a prosthetic, Kerrey was awarded the Medal of Honor on May 14, 1970, by President Richard Nixon. He later recalled trying — unsuccessfully — to flirt with the president’s daughter Julie during the ceremony.
“Kerrey was elected governor of Nebraska in 1983 and U.S. senator in 1989, and was a presidential candidate in 1992. In 2001, he became president of the New School University in New York City. After 9/11, he served as a member of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. He is the author of When I Was a Young Man: A Memoir by Bob Kerrey, which was published in 2002.”
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