Pentagon ceremony awards unit for heroism in Vietnam
October 21, 2009
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 21, 2009) -- Veterans of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, Tuesday, received the Presidential Unit Citation for their heroism during the Vietnam War.
The Pentagon presentation, hosted by Under Secretary of the Army Dr. Joseph Westphal, followed a ceremony at the White House in which President Barack Obama honored the veterans for rescuing Soldiers in another unit trapped near the Cambodian border.
Westphal lauded the veterans for their bravery on March 26, 1970, when Troop A, 1st Squadron, 11th ACR, came to the aid of Soldiers from Charlie Company, 2-8 Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division.
"Today we learned of a remarkable feat of camaraderie, sacrifice, and courage - one that affirms the finest traditions of service to fellow Soldiers, the Army and our nation," Westphal said.
Charlie Company became overwhelmed by enemy forces in War Zone C when engaged by more than 400 fighters from the 272nd North Vietnamese Army Regiment. The enemy troops were hiding within a large, fortified bunker complex and were expected to capture or kill the 100 Soldiers from Charlie Company, according to the award citation. It stated that after hours of fighting and numerous casualties, Charlie Company was on the edge of defeat.
Even though exhausted after months of continuous combat operations, Troop A volunteered to come to the rescue of their surrounded comrades, the citation states. Troop A successfully penetrated the enemy stronghold and rescued the company. More than 20 Soldiers from the troop were injured and two were killed during the battle.
"These men fought ferociously and courageously to aid their fellow Soldiers," Westphal said. "That day, and throughout their tour in Combat Zone C, they were our Soldiers - our best - members of the Blackhorse Regiment. They lived the Army values and never accepted defeat. They never left their comrades' side, dauntlessly aiding them in uncertain circumstances. They never quit; they placed the mission first and altered the course of events that day."
The Presidential Unit Citation is the highest award that a military unit can receive. Eighty-six Troop A veterans were in attendance at the ceremony. Alpha Troop became one of about only 100 units to receive the citation.
Retired Capt. John Poindexter was the commander of the troop at the time of the battle and was instrumental in recommending the unit for the citation.
"The real value of the Presidential Unit Citation is that it addresses the heroism of all veterans equally," Poindexter said.
Poindexter's quest began several years ago when he wrote a book titled "The Anonymous Battle." He recognized that many men from the troop received individual awards, but the unit was never recognized.
"For me receiving this citation gives a sense of fulfillment," Poindexter said. "I knew we deserved it, but I didn't know if we would receive it."
Retired Sgt. Maj. Richard E. Richards, who already received a Bronze Star for his involvement in the battle, traveled from San Angelo, Texas, to receive the award.
"It means so much to all Vietnam veterans to receive this award," Richards said. "During my visit to Washington, I saw the Vietnam Memorial for the first time and saw friends and it gave me closure. This whole experience has been emotional."
Other veterans from the 11th ACR traveled to the Pentagon for the ceremony. In addition to receiving the award, the ceremony acted as a reunion for many veterans who had not seen each other for a number of years. Ollie Pickral, a sergeant in K Troop, 3rd Squadron, came to the ceremony to honor his fellow veterans receiving the award.
"It is an extreme honor to be here," Pickral said. "Just to see our Blackhorse patch again is a great thrill."
The Presidential Unit Citation is awarded to units of the Armed Forces of the United States and allies for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy on or after Dec. 7, 1941. The unit must display such gallantry, determination and esprit de corps in accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions so as to set it apart from and above other units participating in the same campaign.
Today the 11th ACR serves as the opposing force at the National Training Center. The regimental commander, Col. Paul Laughlin, and Command Sgt. Maj. Martin Wilcox traveled to the nation's capital from Fort Irwin, Calif., for the ceremonies.