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 Marine Cpl. Robert E. O’Malley on Aug. 18, 1965, near the village of An Cu’ong 2, South Vietnam, in the first major engagement between American forces and the Viet Cong.
Robert E. O’Malley’s Medal of Honor citation reads:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the communist (Viet Cong) forces at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.
“While leading his squad in the assault against a strongly entrenched enemy force, his unit came under intense small-arms fire. With complete disregard for his personal safety, Sgt. O’Malley raced across an open rice paddy to a trench line where the enemy forces were located. Jumping into the trench, he attacked the Viet Cong with his rifle and grenades, and singly killed eight of the enemy. He then led his squad to the assistance of an adjacent Marine unit which was suffering heavy casualties.
“Continuing to press forward, he reloaded his weapon and fired with telling effect into the enemy emplacement. He personally assisted in the evacuation of several wounded Marines, and again regrouping the remnants of his squad, he returned to the point of the heaviest fighting.
“Ordered to an evacuation point by an officer, Sgt. O’Malley gathered his besieged and badly wounded squad, and boldly led them under fire to a helicopter for withdrawal. Although three times wounded in this encounter, and facing imminent death from a fanatic and determined enemy, he steadfastly refused evacuation and continued to cover his squad’s boarding of the helicopters while, from an exposed position, he delivered fire against the enemy until his wounded men were evacuated. Only then, with his last mission accomplished, did he permit himself to be removed from the battlefield.
“By his valor, leadership, and courageous efforts in behalf of his comrades, he served as an inspiration to all who observed him, and reflected the highest credit upon the Marine Corps and the U.S. Naval Service.”
Peter Collier, in Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty, writes:
“It took more than four months for the shrapnel in his lungs to stop shifting so that O’Malley could be operated on. After undergoing surgery in Japan, he was sent back to Camp Pendleton and finished out his tour there, leaving the service in April 1966. Late that fall, he was informed that he was to receive the Medal of Honor. He was flown on Air Force One to Austin, Texas, where President Lyndon Johnson was meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The president presented the medal to O’Malley on Dec. 6, 1966.
“O’Malley was the first living Marine from the Vietnam War to receive the medal. Both the Marine Corps drill team and the Marine Corps Band took part in the Texas White House ceremony, which included the dedication of a new federal office building. As the president tried to get the medal around O’Malley’s neck, O’Malley heard him mumble, “How do you put this darned thing on?”
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