Medal of Honor Recipient Paul W. Bucha

Instructor: Eve Levinson

Eve has taught various courses of high school history and has a master's degree in education.

Paul William Bucha was a captain and battalion commander who received the Medal Of Honor during the Vietnam War. This lesson describes the events that earned Bucha this award and also examines his pursuits later in life.

Committing to Service

Could you turn down a scholarship to pursue your hobby at a high level in order to commit to your country? Would you dedicate yourself to being a military officer when war is imminent? It takes a special kind of devotion to make these decisions and put a less dangerous path to the side.

Paul Bucha had spent his childhood training as a swimmer, ultimately earning all-American honors in his sport. Though he was offered the chance to continue swimming as a collegian, he instead chose to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point. Rather than training to break records in the pool, he would train to lead men in battle. After graduating and then receiving his MBA, Bucha went to fight in Vietnam in 1967 as a captain and commander of Company D, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment. He remained in that country for three years and then left the Army in 1972.

Medal of Honor

In March of 1968, Captain Bucha and his men were flown by helicopter to Phuoc Vinh in Binh Duong Province, Vietnam. Their mission's objectives were to both perform reconnaissance and weaken a suspected North Vietnamese stronghold. When Company D arrived, they were met by a battalion-sized force of enemy soldiers. Bucha and his comrades faced automatic weapons, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, Claymore mines, and small arms fire. Still, Bucha needed to find a way to destroy the fortifications and bases used by the opposing fighters.

When his company was trapped by enemy fire, Captain Bucha crawled toward an enemy bunker to destroy it with grenades, receiving a shrapnel wound in the process. Though this action was important tactically, it still left soldiers at risk throughout the area. So, Bucha directed his troops to withdraw to safer positions. He even directed a unit to 'play dead' so that he could distribute ammunition and encouragement during the night. In so doing, they were unlikely to be the target of enemy fire, which would allow Bucha to sneak through the position more easily. With his company better protected, Bucha called in artillery and air support, guiding the attacks using smoke flares and flashlights in full view of the enemy. In true military fashion, at dawn he went back into the field to recover the dead and wounded.

Bucha's actions during the three days near Phuoc Vinh earned him the Medal of Honor, the military's highest award that recognizes exceptional valor displayed by soldiers when confronted with an enemy force. Bucha received his medal in 1970 from President Richard Nixon. He also earned the Bronze Star, which commemorates heroism, and the Purple Heart, which recognizes those wounded in war.

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