"The 8th of November"--Specialist 6th Lawrence Joel: Winner of the Medal of Honor
Specialist 6th Lawrence Joel was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on February 22, 1928. He served his country in Korea and Vietnam. As a United States Army Medical Corpsman, serving with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade on November 8, 1965, during Operation Hump in War Zone D in Vietnam he earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. His citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. Sp6c. Joel demonstrated indomitable courage, determination, and professional skill when a numerically superior and well-concealed Viet Cong element launched a vicious attack which wounded or killed nearly every man in the lead squad of the company. After treating the men wounded by the initial burst of gunfire, he bravely moved forward to assist others who were wounded while proceeding to their objective. While moving from man to man, he was struck in the right leg by machine gun fire. Although painfully wounded his desire to aid his fellow soldiers transcended all personal feeling. He bandaged his own wound and self-administered morphine to deaden the pain enabling him to continue his dangerous undertaking. Through this period of time, he constantly shouted words of encouragement to all around him. Then, completely ignoring the warnings of others, and his pain, he continued his search for wounded, exposing himself to hostile fire; and, as bullets dug up the dirt around him, he held plasma bottles high while kneeling completely engrossed in his life saving mission. Then, after being struck a second time and with a bullet lodged in his thigh, he dragged himself over the battlefield and succeeded in treating 13 more men before his medical supplies ran out. Displaying resourcefulness, he saved the life of one man by placing a plastic bag over a severe chest wound to congeal the blood. As 1 of the platoons pursued the Viet Cong, an insurgent force in concealed positions opened fire on the platoon and wounded many more soldiers. With a new stock of medical supplies, Sp6c. Joel again shouted words of encouragement as he crawled through an intense hail of gunfire to the wounded men. After the 24 hour battle subsided and the Viet Cong dead numbered 410, snipers continued to harass the company. Throughout the long battle, Sp6c. Joel never lost sight of his mission as a medical aidman and continued to comfort and treat the wounded until his own evacuation was ordered. His meticulous attention to duty saved a large number of lives and his unselfish, daring example under most adverse conditions was an inspiration to all. Sp6c. Joel's profound concern for his fellow soldiers, at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.
President Lyndon Johnson presented Specialist 6th Joel with the Medal of Honor on March 9, 1967. Lawrence Joel was the first living African American to be awarded the Medal of Honor since the Spanish American War, although that fact sadly probably testifies only to the tragic legacy of racism in the miliary during the Jim Crow era. There were certainly surviving African American war heroes in the two World Wars and Korea who merited the Medal of Honor but were never recognized.
Lawrence Joel died on February 4, 1984, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetary.
The action in which Lawrence Joel won the Medal of Honor took place during Operation Hump in War Zone D. On November 8, 1965, the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigage, was ambushed by a superior force of over 1200 Viet Cong. 48 American soldiers died that day. Their battalion furiously defended themselves, killing 403 of the enemy. "The 8th of November" is a beautiful and touching song by country music artists Big and Rich, about that battle. Big and Rich composed the song about their friend Niles Harris, a veteran of the 173rd Airborne, who was wounded that day. A music video of the song may be found at "A Mom and her Blog." There is an introduction by Kris Kristofferson, who relates the story of Specialist 6th Lawrence Joel and the song. (Hat tip to Annika's Journal, for linking the site.)