Acts of heroism on the battlefield

Published 7:30 am Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Black History Month

Medal of Honor winners

By Gene Hays
MSgt, USMC (Ret)

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Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Oscar Austin (DDG-79) proudly bears the name of U.S. Marine Private First Class Oscar P. Austin who received the Medal of Honor posthumously for heroism during the Vietnam War in February 1969.

Austin was born in Nacogdoches, TX, and grew up in Phoenix,  He served in the Republic of Vietnam as an ammunition Marine with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Division.

On the morning of 23 February 1969, Austin’s observation post came under a fierce ground attack by a large North Vietnamese Army force using a heavy volume of hand grenades, satchel charges, and small arms fire. 

After observing a wounded Marine had fallen unconscious in a position dangerously exposed to hostile fire, Austin left the security of his foxhole and, with complete disregard for his own personal safety, ran across the fire-swept battlefield to move the unconscious Marine to a safe location. As he neared the casualty, an enemy grenade landed nearby. Without hesitation, Austin leaped between the casualty and the grenade absorbing the detonation. 

Badly wounded, Austin turned to examine the Marine, and when he did, saw a North Vietnamese Army soldier aiming his weapon at the unconscious Marine. With full knowledge of the consequences and thinking only of his fellow Marine, Austin threw himself between the casualty and the enemy fire. In doing so, he gallantly gave his life for his country. 

In addition to the Medal of Honor, Austin received the Purple Heart, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with two bronze stars, and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

William Maud Bryant was from Michigan. He enlisted in the United States Army and began his tour on September 23, 1968. His military occupation or specialty was Infantry Operations and Intelligence Specialist, attached to Special Forces. 

In Long Khanh province, Republic of Vietnam, Bryant led a company of South Vietnamese troops during an intense attack by North Vietnamese forces until being fatally wounded by enemy fire. For his actions during the battle, Bryant was awarded the Medal of Honor.

SFC Bryant displayed extraordinary heroism throughout the succeeding 34 hours of incessant attack as he moved throughout the company position heedless of the intense hostile fire while establishing and improving the defensive perimeter, directing fire during critical phases of the battle, distributing ammunition, assisting the wounded, and providing the leadership and inspirational example of courage to his men. 

SFC Bryant fearlessly charged an enemy automatic-weapons position, overrunning it and single handedly destroying its three defenders.Inspired by his heroic example, his men renewed their attack on the entrenched enemy. 

While regrouping his small force for the final assault against the enemy, SFC Bryant fell mortally wounded by an enemy rocket. SFC Bryant’s selfless concern for his comrades, at the cost of his life above and beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.