On this date: Vandalia Marine saves 5 men in Vietnam battle, which led to Medal of Honor

Joe C. Paul of Vandalia was a hero during the Vietnam War.

For his “fortitude and gallant spirt” in battle, Paul received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for heroism. He earned the honor for saving five men during a Vietnam War battle on Aug. 18, 1965, which led to his death on Aug. 18, 1965.

The honor was presented to the family in 1967 by Navy Undersecretary Robert B. Baldwin. Baldwin told the tearful parents, “Many would consider him just a teenager, but he was a man. His example will inspire others.”

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Paul enlisted on his 17th birthday, April 26, 1963. He had completed his sophomore year at Stivers High School before enlisting and arrived in Vietnam with his unit on May 7, 1965.

The 19-year-old Marine was killed near Chu Lai in Operation Starlight, the first direct battlefield confrontation between a major U.S. unit and a main force Viet Cong unit.

Paul saw that five men in Company H, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, had been injured during a violent battle. Through mortar and rifle fire, Paul shielded the wounded men while they were evacuated.

According the citation that came with the Medal of Honor, “Cpl. Paul, fully aware that his tactics would almost certainly result in serious injury or death to himself, chose to disregard his own safety and boldly dashed across the fire swept rice paddies, placed himself between his wounded comrades and the enemy and delivered effective suppressive fire with his automatic weapon.”

Paul was caught in a barrage of grenades but remained in action even after he was critically wounded. He died the following day.

A Navy Destroyer escort ship, named the U.S.S Paul, was christened by his mother at a launch out of a New Orleans shipyard in 1970. At the time, it was the only ship in the fleet named for an enlisted Marine.

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