Hero who led last major U.S. bayonet charge dies
November 19, 2009
WASHINGTON (Nov. 19, 2009) -- Retired Col. Lewis L. Millett, who received the Medal of Honor during the Korean War for leading what was reportedly the last major American bayonet charge, died Nov 14.
Millett, 88, died in Loma Linda, Calif., last weekend after serving for more than 15 years as the honorary colonel of the 27th Infantry Regiment Association.
Millet received the Medal of Honor for his actions Feb. 7, 1951. He led Company E, 27th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division, in a bayonet charge up Hill 180 near Soam-Ni, Korea.
A captain at the time, Millet was leading his company in an attack against a strongly held position when he noticed that a platoon was pinned down by small-arms, automatic, and antitank fire.
Millett placed himself at the head of two other platoons, ordered fixed bayonets, and led an assault up the fire-swept hill. In the fierce charge, Millett bayoneted two enemy soldiers and continued on, throwing grenades, clubbing and bayoneting the enemy, while urging his men forward by shouting encouragement, according to his Medal of Honor citation.
"Despite vicious opposing fire, the whirlwind hand-to-hand assault carried to the crest of the hill," the citation states. "His dauntless leadership and personal courage so inspired his men that they stormed into the hostile position and used their bayonets with such lethal effect that the enemy fled in wild disorder."
During the attack, Millett was wounded by grenade fragments but refused evacuation until the objective was firmly secured. He recovered, and after the war went to attend Ranger School.
In the 1960s he ran the 101st Airborne Division Recondo School, for reconnaissance-commando training, at Fort Campbell, Ky. Then he served in a number of special operations advisory assignments in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. He founded the Royal Thai Army Ranger School with help of the 46th Special Forces Company. This unit is reportedly the only one in the U.S.Army to ever simultaneously be designated as both Ranger and Special Forces.
Millet retired from the Army in 1973.
"I was very saddened to hear Col. Millett passed away," said Maj. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., the current commanding general of the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. "He was a rare breed, a true patriot who never stopped serving his country. He was a role model for thousands of Soldiers and he will be missed."
Millet was born in Maine and first enlisted in 1940 in the Army Air Corps and served as a gunner. Soon after, when it appeared that the U.S. would not enter World War II, he left and joined the Canadian Army.
In 1942, while Millet was serving in London, the United States entered the war. Millet turned himself into the U.S. Embassy there. He was eventually assigned to the 1st Armored Division. As an antitank gunner in Tunisia, Millet earned the Silver Star after he jumped into a burning halftrack filled with ammunition, drove it away from allied soldiers and jumped to safety just before the vehicle exploded. He later shot down a German fighter plane with a vehicle-mounted machine gun.
As a sergeant serving in Italy during the war, his desertion to join the Canadian forces caught up to him. He was court-martialed, fined $52 and denied leave. A few weeks later he was awarded a battlefield commission. After the war, he joined the 103rd Infantry of the Maine National Guard, and attended college, until he was called back to active duty in 1949.
In addition to the Medal of Honor, Millett earned the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, two Legions of Merit and four Purple Hearts during his 35-year military career. After his retirement, he remained active in both national and local veterans groups from his Idyllwild, Calif., home.
His son, Staff Sgt John Morton Millett, was a member of the 101st Airborne Division returning from duty in the Sinai Dec. 12, 1985, when a charter plane crashed upon takeoff after stopping at Gander, Newfoundland. He was one of 256 Soldiers killed in the crash.
On Feb. 7, 1994, retired Col. Millet was honored with a ceremony on Hill 180, now located on Osan Air Base, South Korea. The ceremony became an annual one and the road running up the hill was named "Millet Road."
In June 2000, Millet returned to Seoul, South Korea, and served as keynote speaker at the Army's 225th Birthday Ball at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. All eight of the then-living Korean War Medal of Honor recipients attended the event.
This year, Millet served as the grand marshal of a Salute to Veterans parade, April 21 in Riverside, Calif. He died Nov. 14 at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Loma Linda, Calif., of congestive heart failure.
A memorial service for Millet is scheduled for 10 a.m. Dec. 5 at the National Medal of Honor Memorial, Riverside National Cemetery in California.