On This Day in Medal of Honor History:
Peter Lemon (Army, Vietnam)
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 the battle that took place at Fire Support Base Illingworth on April 1, 1970, in Tây Ninh Province, South Vietnam, and the actions taken by Peter Lemon.
Peter Lemon’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. Sgt. Lemon (then Sp4c.), Company E, distinguished himself while serving as an assistant machine gunner during the defense of Fire Support Base Illingworth.
“When the base came under heavy enemy attack, Sgt. Lemon engaged a numerically superior enemy with machine gun and rifle fire from his defensive position until both weapons malfunctioned. He then used hand grenades to fend off the intensified enemy attack launched in his direction.
“After eliminating all but 1 of the enemy soldiers in the immediate vicinity, he pursued and disposed of the remaining soldier in hand-to-hand combat. Despite fragment wounds from an exploding grenade, Sgt. Lemon regained his position, carried a more seriously wounded comrade to an aid station, and, as he returned, was wounded a second time by enemy fire.
“Disregarding his personal injuries, he moved to his position through a hail of small arms and grenade fire. Sgt. Lemon immediately realized that the defensive sector was in danger of being overrun by the enemy and unhesitatingly assaulted the enemy soldiers by throwing hand grenades and engaging in hand-to-hand combat. He was wounded yet a third time, but his determined efforts successfully drove the enemy from the position.
“Securing an operable machine gun, Sgt. Lemon stood atop an embankment fully exposed to enemy fire, and placed effective fire upon the enemy until he collapsed from his multiple wounds and exhaustion. After regaining consciousness at the aid station, he refused medical evacuation until his more seriously wounded comrades had been evacuated.
“Sgt. Lemon’s gallantry and extraordinary heroism, are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the U.S. Army.”
In his book Fire Base Illingworth: An Epic True Story of Remarkable Courage Against Staggering Odds, author Philip Keith describes a moment that took place after the battle:
A disheveled group of survivors gathered, toward sundown, near the middle of the base. Father Boyle was going to render a blessing — and give thanks for those that had survived. The actual text of what he said was not written down, but several men remembered his words and say that they were pretty close to the following:
“You men went through hell on earth today. You will never forget the events of last night, and you will never forget your brothers who lost their lives last night and the ones who were wounded. You will never live your lives in the same manner as you did before. You must now live your own lives and a piece of each life that was lost. You have been changed. Your appreciation of life has been elevated to a new plane because no man can appreciate life as much as he who has come close to losing his life. God bless you all.”
Peter Lemon became a businessman and motivational speaker who dedicates his award and pays tribute to those with whom he served at FSB Illingworth, especially three soldiers who were lost in that battle: Casey Waller, Nathan Mann and Brent Street. He is also the author of Beyond the Medal: A Journey from Their Hearts to Yours and executive producer of the Emmy-winning documentary of the same name.
In 2009, Lemon, the only living Canadian-born U.S. citizen to receive the Medal of Honor, was presented with the Outstanding American By Choice award from President Barack Obama. Lemon said in response to the occasion, “America has provided me a special opportunity: the ‘freedom’ to choose my path in life. With that freedom comes enormous pride, and also a tremendous sense of debt. At the very core of my being, I understand America lives in me and I have an obligation to pay this debt during the course of my life by contributing, even in the smallest ways, to the greater good of this country and mankind.”
Six years later, when the U.S. Postal Service issued a Vietnam War Medal of Honor Stamp Folio, Lemon responded, “While the Medal of Honor stamp acknowledges America’s highest symbol of service before self, it’s really a reflection of all those who served in the military. And most importantly, it’s an acknowledgement of those who gave their life so that we could be fortunate enough to live ours. I hope when postal customers peel and place the stamp on their envelopes, they feel a sense of pride for our great nation and so too, indebtedness, as I do, for the sacrifice others have made for the privilege to live in America.”
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