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 First Lt. Walter “Joe” Marm Jr. of the 7th Cavalry and the Battle of Ia Drang Valley in South Vietnam on Nov. 14, 1965. In Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty, Peter Collier said of the engagement, “It was the first large-scale pitched battle between American and North Vietnamese troops, and would later be dramatized in the film We Were Soldiers.”
Walter “Joe” Marm’s Medal of Honor citation reads:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. As a platoon leader in the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), 1st Lt. Marm demonstrated indomitable courage during a combat operation.
“His company was moving through the valley to relieve a friendly unit surrounded by an enemy force of estimated regimental size. First Lt. Marm led his platoon through withering fire until they were finally forced to take cover.
“Realizing that his platoon could not hold very long, and seeing four enemy soldiers moving into his position, he moved quickly under heavy fire and annihilated all four. Then, seeing that his platoon was receiving intense fire from a concealed machine gun, he deliberately exposed himself to draw its fire. Thus locating its position, he attempted to destroy it with an antitank weapon. Although he inflicted casualties, the weapon did not silence the enemy fire.
“Quickly, disregarding the intense fire directed on him and his platoon, he charged 30 meters across open ground, and hurled grenades into the enemy position, killing some of the eight insurgents manning it. Although severely wounded, when his grenades were expended, armed with only a rifle, he continued the momentum of his assault on the position and killed the remainder.
“His selfless actions reduced the fire on his platoon, broke the enemy assault, and rallied his unit to continue toward the accomplishment of this mission.
“First Lt. Marm’s gallantry on the battlefield and his extraordinary intrepidity at the risk of his life are in the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.”
Marm described the battle for the Army Heritage Center Foundation:
“My company commander attached me to Bravo Company to make an assault to try to link up with [the surrounded platoon]. We made an attempt [but] weren’t successful, we had to pull back. We started up a second time late in the afternoon with an artillery prep in front of us. We were taking heavy fire from in front of us from the NVA.
“There was a machine gun and an ant-hill, we called it a bunker but it was a solidified rock ant hill. It was about seven or eight feet in height, and maybe six feet in length, and there were shrubs and trees around it. So it was very difficult to get a grenade over it to where the enemy was. I tried to get one of my men to throw a grenade from where we were… We were pretty much right in front of the bunker, and I thought it was a pretty strategic position because most of the fire was going out to the flanks… He threw it and it didn’t get over, it landed in front and made a big boom.
“I shot at it with a LAW, a Light Anti-tank Weapon, into that bunker to try and silence it. It went off, made a big boom. It really picked up morale, it picked up my morale, because we thought we’d knocked it out. We started forward again, and the weapons fire all on our front picked up again. That’s when I said, ‘It’s time for me to do it myself.’ So I charged across 40 or 50 yards of open terrain, had my rifle and grenades with me. I told my men to hold their fire; I was worried about getting shot by my own men. I ran across in front of the bunker, threw a grenade over the top. When it went off I went around to the left side. There were still some guys there shooting, so I finished them off with my M-16… I turned sideways and told my men ‘Let’s go,’ we’ve got to get up to the platoon that was trapped on the side of the mountain, when I got shot.
“It went in my left jaw and went out here [points to his right jaw]. Kind of ruined my day. I had to feel my teeth to make sure I still had my teeth. One of my sergeants, who was a medic in Korea, came up, him and a couple of other guys were the first up. They patched me up and a couple of my men took me to the back. That was the first day of the battle, and it lasted for two more days.”
In addition to his fellow soldiers, Marm’s actions were witnessed by United Press International correspondent Joe Galloway, who would write the book We Were Soldiers Once … And Young, which eventually became a movie.
“The Medal of Honor was presented to Marm by Secretary of the Army Stanley Resor at the Pentagon on Dec. 19, 1966. In 1969, Marm asked to go back to Vietnam for a second tour; he was allowed to return only after signing a waiver stipulating that going back into harm’s way was his own choice.
“Marm retired from military service as a colonel with 30 years of service. He now raises pigs in North Carolina.”
He later said this of the Medal of Honor:
“Some people say the Medal is harder to wear than it is to earn. I’ve always been very humble, and feel that I wear the medal for all those soldiers in the 1st Cav who were there in that battle and other battles. I’m just the caretaker of the Medal for them. There’re so many valorous deeds that go on in combat, they all can’t be recognized. I’m no braver than many of my fellow soldiers, I’m just grateful that they authorized me to wear it for them. So I feel I have to uphold the Medal for them. You have to take care of your fellow soldiers and walk in their shoes too.”
Keep up with Freedoms Foundation news and events here.