On Patriot’s Day there are six Medals awarded to date, from the Civil War to Vietnam. Ironically, four of them come from suppressing the rebellion of the Confederacy. Included in that list is one of the youngest recipients of the Medal, Drummer Langbein.
Civil War. Not a flag capture among them, these citations are harbingers of the Medal’s future history.
BETTS, CHARLES MALONE
Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Place and date: Greensboro, North Carolina, April 19, 1865. Citation: With a force of but 75 men, while on a scouting expedition, by a judicious disposition of his men, surprised and captured an entire battalion of the enemy’s cavalry.
ELLIOTT, RUSSEL C
Rank and Organization: Second Lieutenant (then Sergeant), Company B, 3rd Massachusetts Cavalry. Place and date: Natchitoches, Louisiana, April 19, 1864. Citation: Seeing a Confederate officer in advance of his command, charged on him alone and unaided and captured him.
LANGBEIN, JOHANN CHRISTOPH JULIUS
Rank and Organization: Drummer, Company B, 9th New York Infantry. Place and date: Camden, North Carolina, April 19, 1862 Citation: A drummer boy, 15 years of age, he voluntarily and under a heavy fire went to the aid of a wounded officer, procured medical assistance for him, and aided in carrying him to a place of safety.
Rank and Organization: Brevet Brigadier General (then Captain) U.S. Volunteers. Place and date: Fort Huger, Virginia, April 19, 1863 Citation: Gallantly led a party that assaulted and captured the fort.
WWII – Okinawa and one “fightin’ fool” of a soldier.
*MAY, MARTIN O.
Rank and Organization: Private First Class, 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division. Place and date: Iegusuku-Yama, Ie-shima, Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands, Japan, 19-21 April, 1945 Citation: He gallantly maintained a three-day stand in the face of terrible odds when American troops fought for possession of the rugged slopes of Iegusuku-Yama on Ie-shima, Ryukyu Islands. After placing his heavy machine gun in an advantageous yet vulnerable position on a ridge to support riflemen, he became the target of fierce mortar and small-arms fire from the counterattacking Japanese. He repulsed this assault by sweeping the enemy with accurate bursts while explosions and ricocheting bullets threw blinding dust and dirt about him. He broke up a second counterattack by hurling grenades into the midst of the enemy forces, and then refused to withdraw, volunteering to maintain his post and cover the movement of American riflemen as they reorganized to meet any further hostile action. The major effort of the enemy did not develop until the morning of 21 April. It found Pfc. May still supporting the rifle company in the face of devastating rifle, machine-gun, and mortar fire. While many of the friendly troops about him became casualties, he continued to fire his machine gun until he was severely wounded and his gun rendered useless by the burst of a mortar shell. Refusing to withdraw from the violent action, he blasted fanatical Japanese troops with hand grenades until wounded again, this time mortally. By his intrepidity and the extreme tenacity with which he held firm until death against overwhelming forces, Pfc. May killed at least 16 Japanese, was largely responsible for maintaining the American lines, and inspired his comrades to efforts which later resulted in complete victory and seizure of the mountain stronghold.
Vietnam. “Do some of that pilot shit, Mav!”
THORSNESS, LEO K
Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel (then Major), 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron, USAF. Place and date: Over North Vietnam, 19 April, 1967 Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. As pilot of an F-105 aircraft, Lt. Col. Thorsness was on a surface-to-air missile suppression mission over North Vietnam. Lt. Col. Thorsness and his wingman attacked and silenced a surface-to-air missile site with air-to-ground missiles, and then destroyed a second surface-to-air missile site with bombs. In the attack on the second missile site, Lt. Col. Thorsness’ wingman was shot down by intensive antiaircraft fire, and the two crewmembers abandoned their aircraft. Lt. Col. Thorsness circled the descending parachutes to keep the crewmembers in sight and relay their position to the Search and Rescue Center. During this maneuver, a MIG-17 was sighted in the area. Lt. Col. Thorsness immediately initiated an attack and destroyed the MIG. Because his aircraft was low on fuel, he was forced to depart the area in search of a tanker. Upon being advised that two helicopters were orbiting over the downed crew’s position and that there were hostile MIGs in the area posing a serious threat to the helicopters, Lt. Col. Thorsness, despite his low fuel condition, decided to return alone through a hostile environment of surface-to-air missile and antiaircraft defenses to the downed crew’s position. As he approached the area, he spotted four MIG-17 aircraft and immediately initiated an attack on the MIGs, damaging one and driving the others away from the rescue scene. When it became apparent that an aircraft in the area was critically low on fuel and the crew would have to abandon the aircraft unless they could reach a tanker, Lt. Col. Thorsness, although critically short on fuel himself, helped to avert further possible loss of life and a friendly aircraft by recovering at a forward operating base, thus allowing the aircraft in emergency fuel condition to refuel safely. Lt. Col. Thorsness’ extraordinary heroism, self-sacrifice, and personal bravery involving conspicuous risk of life were in the highest traditions of the military service, and have reflected great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force.
*Asterisk indicates posthumous award.