Wounded by a Grenade, This Marine Inspired 'His Beleaguered Platoon'

Jimmie E. Howard, USMC; Medal of Honor recipient for heroic actions during the Vietnam War (June 1966). (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)
Jimmie E. Howard received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during the Vietnam War in June 1966. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

In 1998, Navy Secretary John H. Dalton announced that one of three new Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers would be named the USS Howard in honor of Jimmie E. Howard, a Marine gunnery sergeant who received a Congressional Medal of Honor for his June 16, 1966, "gallantry and intrepidity" in Vietnam.

Howard, who had won the Silver Star as a corporal during the Korean War, was a poster-boy Marine from Burlington, Iowa, and a perfect choice for this honor. He was also his commanding officer's perfect choice to lead the platoon of 18 men deposited on Hill 488 west of Chu Lai on June 13, 1966. The 1,500-foot hill was a perfect vantage point for the Marines. For the next couple of days, Howard called in fire missions on every group they sighted -- so many that his commanding officer, Capt. Timothy Geraghty, did not honor them all, fearing they would arouse enemy suspicion as to the platoon's position.

Geraghty wanted to withdraw the platoon entirely on June 14, but Howard wanted to stay and fight. On June 15, a full battalion of Viet Cong swarmed up Hill 488. At the instant he realized his men were surrounded, Howard pulled them into a tight perimeter. He personally directed each Marine's firing position, moving constantly from one to the other, encouraging and motivating his group of young, mostly untested Marines.

Howard's Medal of Honor citation tells the rest of the story: "When fragments of an exploding enemy grenade wounded him severely and prevented him from moving his legs, he distributed his ammunition to the remaining members of his platoon and proceeded to maintain radio communications and direct air strikes on the enemy with uncanny accuracy. At dawn, although five men were killed and all but one wounded, his beleaguered platoon was still in command of its position."

Howard's courage, valor, and heroism enabled 12 men of his platoon to survive. The unit killed 200 of the enemy during the 12-hour attack.

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