Medal of Honor: Vietnam War Recipients

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy is a Doctoral student at Virginia Commonwealth University studying media studies and cultural history

In this lesson, we will learn about some of the 260 American military officers who received the Congressional Medal of Honor for their service during the Vietnam War. After exploring the meaning and significance of the award, we will get to know some of the notable recipients.

Above and Beyond the Call of Duty

The Medal of Honor is the highest award a military officer can get. Anyone serving in the Army, Navy, or Marines is eligible. The Medal of Honor is awarded to recognize an officer's valor, or courage in the face of adversity. It can be awarded for both combat and noncombat situations. Because it is given out by an act of Congress, it is often referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor. Millions have served their country throughout the medal's short history, and nearly 3,500 have been honored with the award. Other military decorations that recognize courage include the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star.

The Medal of Honor recognizes 'conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty.' But this phrase, 'above and beyond the call of duty,' is so commonly quoted that it has almost lost its meaning. What, in fact, does it mean? Learning about the noble actions of Vietnam War veterans who have been honored with this award will remind us of the meaning of courage and valor.

Vietnam War Soldiers

The Vietnam War (1954-1975) was a war like no other in American history. Its guerilla warfare - characterized by hit-and-run tactics, mobile units, raids, and ambushes - tested the courage and resilience of the American military. The Vietnam War is remembered for its high casualty rate. Of the millions who fought in the Vietnam War, over 58,000 lost their lives.

260 officers received the Medal of Honor for their service in the Vietnam War. More than half of those who received the medal hailed from the Army. Officers in the Air Force, Navy, and Marines were also honored. A full list of all the honorees is available at the website of the U.S. Army Center of Military History, but here are a few noteworthy mentions. Highlighting even a few of these stories should give a sense of what it takes to be named among these heroes. As these soldiers' stories testify, this honor marks the poignant conclusion to a harrowing journey.

Allan Kellogg

Allan Kellogg, right
allan kellogg

March 11, 1970. Sergeant Allan Kellogg leads a small unit to rescue a fallen soldier, when they come under enemy fire. Kellogg orders his soldiers to the tree line, but they are surrounded. The onslaught continues. One enemy fighter slings a grenade. It ricochets off Kellogg's chest. Thinking quickly, Kellogg stamps the grenade into the mud and covers the blast with his body. This sharp action protects his unit from the blast, and Kellogg survives with multiple injuries.

Stephen Pless

Stephen Pless, right
Stephen Pless

August 19, 1967. Helicopter gunship pilot Major Stephen Pless flies a rescue mission to save four soldiers stranded on a beach. Arriving on the scene, Pless opens fire on the scores of enemy soldiers. His rain of fire forces the Viet Cong into the jungle, and he lands the helicopter. Displaying extraordinary heroism and masterful flight tactics, Major Pless manages to transport the survivors to safety.

Melvin Morris

Melvin Morris receives the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama.
Melvin Morris

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