WASHINGTON -- As Medal of Honor recipient Jim McCloughan was inducted into the Hall of Heroes Tuesday, he reflected on those who gave the ultimate sacrifice and the bond he formed with his fellow Soldiers.
"The brave Soldiers who died in my arms will remain in my mind and my thoughts for the rest of my life. I heard the last words … of 18-, 19- and 20-year-old boys," said McCloughan, who spent two years in the Army before returning to his native Michigan to teach psychology and sociology. "I wanted to save them all, but I couldn't."
The Department of Defense and the Army honored the former combat medic for the many lives he did save in a ceremony Tuesday morning at the Pentagon, officiated by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark Milley, and acting Army Secretary Robert Speer.
McCloughan, who rose to the rank of specialist five, served as a combat medic for the 89 Soldiers in Company C, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 196th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division, after getting drafted into the Army at age 22.
With several of the men whose lives he saved in attendance, McCloughan reflected on the harrowing three days he spent in South Vietnam, when he repeatedly stepped into enemy fire to rescue and tend to injured U.S. servicemen. From May 13-15, 1969, McCloughan saved the lives of at least 10 Soldiers during combat at Nui Yon Hill in South Vietnam.
"He's a living example that we all should be," Milley said of McCloughan. "His entry into the ranks of our greatest national heroes as a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor is 48 years overdue."
Mattis recounted the details of "Doc" McCloughan's story and lauded his courage. Milley credited Charlie Company members for leading the campaign to upgrade McCloughan's Bronze Star to a Medal of Honor. President Trump awarded the medal to McCloughan in a White House ceremony Monday.
"I tell you sir, that while this honor is long overdue, it comes in earnest," Mattis said to McCloughan. "We are very very honored to have you, your bride and your family here today. We stand in respect of you, of your warrior brothers, and of your heroic sacrifice. Because you stand as a living example of America's awesome determination to defend herself, or what President Trump called yesterday 'America's unbreakable spirit.'"
Among McCloughan's heroic acts include running 100 meters into an open field while facing enemy fire to rescue Spc. Bill Arnold, who was thrown from a fallen helicopter.
While wounded from shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade, the medic led two Americans to safety. McCloughan later ignored a direct order to stay back and entered enemy fire four more times to extract wounded soldiers. McCloughan refused to evacuate as he treated the wounded. On May 14, C Company was again ordered to move out on Nui Yon Hill. There, McCloughan suffered more injuries while tending to two Soldiers in an open rice patty.
"Doc McCloughan certainly knew the danger that lay before him and his men -- his brothers. However, not acting was against his character," Speer said. "In the face of death, in the fury of persistent enemy fire, Doc rose to the occasion. Repeatedly he risked his life so that other men would persevere."
The medic helped his men persevere under insurmountable odds when about 1,500-2,000 enemy from a Vietcong regiment and two companies from a second North Vietnamese division descended toward him and his C Company teammates.
"The enemy looked like lava flowing down off the hill coming down toward our position," McCloughan said.
Again and again, McCloughan ran into enemy fire to rescue and extract the wounded, inspiring his teammates to fight for their survival. When his unit's supplies began to run out, McCloughan volunteered to hold a blinking strobe light in the dark to mark a beacon for a resupply shipment.
While rockets and grenades flew around his exposed body, McCloughan continued to fight against enemy fire, treating the wounded throughout the night. He also organized the dead and wounded for evacuation. Mattis said the combat medic's actions continue to inspire nearly five decades later.
"You remind us of the gravity of the decisions we make in this building, the support we owe in this building and the enduring truths of combat," Mattis said. "The need for a level of physical stamina that goes beyond words to describe it. You, your example (and) your story are welcome here with all the humbling impact it has on every one of us, regardless of rank."
McCloughan credited his background as an athlete at the prep and collegiate levels with giving him the instincts needed to make pressure decision on the battlefield. He said a high school job working at a funeral home in his native Michigan prepared him for the realities of death. He said his sense of humor was crucial for morale and helping wounded Soldiers from going into shock.
McCloughan also honored his late parents, Oliver and Margaret, for instilling in him values he carried with him into combat, as well as his uncle, Jack, whom he called his idol.
"My character was molded by them, and the mental discipline I learned from athletics allowed me to maintain my focus during our many battles," McCloughan said.
After returning to Michigan, McCloughan spent 40 years teaching and coaching, eventually coaching both of his sons and numerous student athletes.