Captain presumed dead by comrades alive, recognized for heroism after 43 years
May 4, 2011
- Unit commander was evacuated from Vietnam with a neck wound after the Battle of An Bao.
- Forty years after battle his comrades realized his name wasn't on the Vietnam Memorial.
- An act of Congress was used to waive the statute of limitations for the Distinguished Service Cross award.
FORT BENNING, Ga., May 4, 2011 -- Capt. Jay C. Copley fought for three hours after sustaining a bullet wound through his neck. The men of 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry Regiment, assumed he was dead after they watched him be evacuated.
They presumed he was dead for 40 years - until they noticed his name wasn't on the Vietnam Wall.
On Thursday, nearly 43 years after the Battle of An Bao, which took place on May 5, 1968, Copley stood in front of members of the 1st Bn., 50th Inf. Regt., family members, and distinguished guests to receive the Distinguished Service Cross at the National Infantry Museum parade field.
"The people who served with me thought I was dead for 40 years," Copley said. "They found out I was alive and then they went to work on the award. That's the main reason it took 43 years for it to happen."
About three years ago, members of the 1st Bn., 50th Inf. Regt., began to push for the recognition of Copley's actions in the battle. Copley led C Company on an assault of a numerically superior enemy force, which threatened to overrun the adjacent A Company. Copley sustained life-threatening injuries during the battle, but refused to give up his command until the fight was over.
Before engaging in combat, Harry Wilson, one of Copley's platoon leaders during the battle, said he knew the battle "was going to be really bad," but revered the leadership shown by Copley.
"He didn't mess around. You moved fast with him," Wilson said. "If we had gotten there five minutes later, A Company would have been killed. They were running out of ammo. One bunker had only five rounds left."
The Army has a three-year statute of limitations on awarding the DSC and an act of Congress was required to finally recognize Copley.
Col. Terry Sellers presented the medal to Copley, who stood by his wife, Wilfreda.
"I feel honored getting this award even though it's been 43 years," Copley said. "I'm never bitter about anything. Some things take longer than others."
Former Columbus mayor and retired Col. Robert Poydasheff was the guest speaker.
"(Copley) represents the best of America," Poydasheff said. "Under heavy fire, small arms, machine guns and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades), he brought the fight to them. Jay had life-threatening wounds. Even with those serious wounds, he would not allow his evacuation until his men were safe."
After being presented with the DSC, Copley briefly retold the events of the battle and dedicated the award to those who lost their lives in it.
"It's a battle that cost 22 lives and 58 wounded," Copley said. "I'm not worthy of the medal. I accept this award on behalf of those 22 Soldiers. If I wear it, I'll always remember them."