WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 20, 2009) -- During a White House ceremony today President Barack Obama praised Vietnam veterans of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment for their heroism in rescuing Soldiers from another unit trapped near the Cambodian border.
The Presidential Unit Citation was presented to veterans from Troop A, 1st Squadron, 11th ACR, for their heroic actions March 26, 1970. They came to the aid of Soldiers from Charlie Company, 2-8 Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division, who were facing more than 400 enemy fighters.
As these men will tell you themselves," Obama said, referring to more than 80 veterans of the 11th ACR in attendance, "this isn't the story of a battle that changed the course of a war. It never had a name, like Tet or Hue or Khe Sanh. It never made the papers back home. But like countless battles, known and unknown, it is a proud chapter in the story of the American Soldier."
"These men might be a little bit older and a little bit grayer, but make no mistake, these Soldiers define the meaning of bravery and heroism," Obama said.
"Now, some may wonder: After all these years, why honor this heroism now'" Obama asked. "The answer is simple. Because we must. Because we have a sacred obligation. As a nation, we have an obligation to this troop. Their actions that day went largely unnoticed -- for decades..."
The Presidential Unit Citation is the highest award that a military unit can receive.
That day Charlie Company had stumbled upon a massive underground bunker of North Vietnamese troops, Obama explained, and was in danger of being overrun.
"It's the story of how this team of some 200 men set out to save their fellow Americans. With no roads to speak of, they plowed their tanks and armored vehicles through the thick jungle, smashing a path through bamboo and underbrush, mile after mile, risking ambush and landmines every step of the way, and finally emerging from the jungle to the rescue -- what one member of Charlie Company called "a miracle."
More than 20 men from Alpha Troop were wounded and at least two were killed during the ensuing battle.
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," he said.
Poindexter's quest began several years ago when he wrote a book about the battle and 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. I knew we deserved it, but I didn't know if we would receive it," he said.
Eighty-six Troop A veterans were in attendance at the ceremony. Alpha Troop became one of about only 100 recipients of the Presidential Unit Citation.
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."
Today the 11th ACR serves as the opposing force at the National Training Center and the regimental commander, Col. Paul Laughlin, and Command Sgt. Maj. Martin Wilcox were there from Fort Irwin, Calif., for the ceremonies.
The White House ceremony was followed by an award presentation at the Pentagon.