Army Lieutenant Charges Enemy, Saves Platoon in Vietnam

By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chuck Broadway,
Defense Media Activity

This blog is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we’ll highlight one of the nearly 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the honor of wearing the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.

A few years ago I was stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina, when I was invited to attend a cookout, provided by retired military members as a way to say “thanks” to those currently serving. Along with a friend and colleague of mine, we set out to grab a hamburger, hot dog, or whatever may be available, and chat with a few service members who paved the road for current troops.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Walter Marm Jr. salutes during taps, May 26, 2014, at the Wayne County Veteran’s Memorial in Goldsboro, North Carolina, where he was a speaker. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Mariah Tolbert

When a volunteer retiree placed our hot dogs on our plates, my colleague and I thanked him. I recognized who he was, but my colleague was unaware that he had just been served a free meal, by a Medal of Honor recipient. Completely shocked, my colleague went back to the serving line to shake this man’s hand. He had heard the stories, but had never had the privilege to meet Army Col. Walter Joseph Marm Jr. before. This humble, quiet, and inauspicious moment was representative of the type of person Marm is, but not of the heroic actions that he’s known for.

Walter Marm Jr. Army photo

Marm was born Nov. 20, 1941, in Washington, Pennsylvania, to Walter Sr. and Dorothy Marm, a Pennsylvania State police officer and retail clerk, respectively.

He attended college at Duquesne University, graduated with a business degree in 1964 and attended Army Officer Candidate School upon graduating. He attended Army Ranger School, and by September 1965, 2nd Lt. Marm found himself in Vietnam, a platoon leader with the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile).

On Nov. 14, 1965, under the command of Army Lt. Col. Hal Moore, the 1st Cavalry Division, which included Marm and his platoon, were assigned patrol duties in the la Drang Valley near the Cambodian border. Their mission was to clear the area and prevent North Vietnamese army soldiers from advancing into the territory. A lead platoon was cut off and surrounded by NVA troops. Marm led his platoon to aid the trapped platoon when they came under fire themselves.

Firing his M16 rifle and heaving grenades at enemy troops, Marm kept advancing when a bullet went through his left jaw and out his right. Although his wounds were severe, they were not life-threatening, and Marm pressed onward, eventually killing more than a dozen NVA troops, leading to the rescue of the trapped platoon.

Marm cradles his Medal of Honor, June 30, 2015, at his house in Fremont, North Carolina. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brittain Crolley

The Battle of la Drang would continue for two more days. It was the first major combat battle between the U.S. and the NVA. It was dramatized in the movie “We Were Soldiers,” based on the book by retired Army Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and reporter Joseph Galloway, who witnessed Marm’s actions.

Those actions were recognized as Marm was awarded the Medal of Honor. According to the award citation, Marm demonstrated conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity, risking his life beyond the call of duty. He exposed himself to concealed machine gun fire, drawing attention away from his platoon and, in the process, revealing the position of the gun that had his platoon pinned down. Then, Marm charged open ground, throwing grenades and killing eight enemy fighters while being severely wounded in the process. Marm continued his attack, eventually eliminating all enemies in the area, allowing his platoon to complete its mission.

Army Col. Mario Diaz stands shoulder to shoulder with Marm as they take a moment to pause during a tour of Forward Operating Base Gamberi Jan. 13, 2014. Marm visited Gamberi to meet with the soldiers and bring them a live performance of excerpts from “Beyond Glory,” a play about the stories of some of our nation’s greatest heroes. Army photo by Sgt. Eric Provost

Marm was presented the medal on Dec. 19, 1966, as a first lieutenant, during a ceremony at the Pentagon. In 1969, Marm requested and served a second assignment to Vietnam.

In a separate interview, Marm was quoted as stating he wears the medal for those soldiers in the 1st Cavalry Division who were at the Battle of la Drang, and other battles. He humbly admitted he is no braver than many other fellow soldiers, and that he was grateful to be authorized to wear the Medal of Honor for all of them.

Marm checks on his hundreds of hogs, June 30, 2015, at a pig farm in Fremont, North Carolina. After retiring from the Army, Marm moved back with his wife to her hometown of Fremont, where he raises pigs and helps manage a local farm. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brittain Crolley

Marm retired from the Army in 1995. He now leads a different type of platoon as he spends his days raising pigs in Eastern, North Carolina. From delivering speeches to serving hot dogs, his humility is still prevalent as he makes numerous trips to military bases giving back to service members.

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