Week of March 3
This week, we remember four Vietnam veterans, each of whom gave their lives within nine days of each other in early 1967. All four of them earned the Medal of Honor for their courage and sacrifice in defense of their comrades and their nation.
First Sergeant Maximo Yabes was born in 1932 in Lodi, California. On the morning of February 26, 1967, Yabes was with Company A of the 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division near Phú Hòa Đông, just north of Sài Gòn. Yabes and Company A were providing security for a clearing operation when they came under attack from three sides by approximately 500 Việt Cộng troops. The enemy forces quickly pressed toward the company command post, where Sergeant Yabes was posted. In the midst of this intense combat, multiple Việt Cộng-thrown grenades landed near Yabes’s position. Yelling to warn those nearby, Yabes intentionally used his body to shield his comrades from the explosion, and he received numerous painful shrapnel wounds. Nonetheless, Sergeant Yabes remained at his post, under fire, until the command group had retreated to a defensible position. Through the rest of the battle, Yabes used an M-79 grenade launcher to help halt the Việt Cộng attack; retrieved two wounded men and helped them to a medical aid station in the rear; and on his own initiative proceeded to assault a Việt Cộng machine gun emplacement that threatened the entire unit. Yabes managed to destroy the emplacement, saving numerous American Soldiers, before dying of his wounds. First Sergeant Yabes is listed on row 102 of panel 15E of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, in Washington, D.C.
Two days later and over 500 miles to the north, near the Demilitarized Zone, 20-year-old Private First Class James Anderson Jr. of Los Angeles, California was with Company F, 2d Battalion, 3d Marines. Anderson and his comrades, moving through thick jungle terrain, were headed to help a besieged reconnaissance patrol unit when they came under heavy fire from small arms and machine guns. Anderson and others, who had been in the lead element, were less than 75 feet from the Communist position, and several of those around him were quickly wounded. When an enemy grenade rolled into the middle of the element’s position, Private Anderson immediately grabbed it and held it to his chest, absorbing the vast majority of the shrapnel when it detonated. The explosion killed Anderson, who undoubtedly saved several of his platoon-mates with his selfless act. Private First Class James Anderson Jr. is listed on row 112 of panel 15E of the Memorial Wall.
On the same day, February 28, 1967, Sergeant First Class Matthew Leonard, from Birmingham, Alabama, was on patrol with Company B, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. That day, the 37-year-old sergeant and his platoon came under sudden attack by Việt Cộng forces in Tây Ninh Province, near the border with Cambodia. The platoon’s officers were wounded immediately, and Leonard was instrumental in forming a defensive line to repel the initial attack. He then took the lead in the platoon’s defense, redistributing ammunition and encouraging his fellow soldiers. While dragging a wounded man to the defensive perimeter, Leonard received a devastating wound to his left hand from a Việt Cộng sniper, rendering the hand useless. He refused medical aid, but instead continued to direct the platoon’s defensive fire. In the meantime, Việt Cộng troops had moved a machine gun into flanking position. With no time to waste, Sergeant Leonard charged the enemy machine gun crew across open ground and managed to kill them and disable the weapon, though he was hit numerous times in the process. Leonard then crawled to a tree, propped himself against it, and continued to fire at the Việt Cộng forces before finally succumbing to his wounds. Inspired by his example, the platoon was able to hold the line until reinforcements arrived. Sergeant First Class Matthew Leonard’s name is inscribed on row 119 of panel 15E of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
A mere six days later, Seaman David G. Ouellet also earned the Medal of Honor. On March 6, 1967, the 22-year-old Ouellet of Wellesley, Massachusetts, was on patrol aboard a river patrol boat (PBR) in the Mekong Delta as part of River Squadron 5, Mỹ Tho Detachment 532. Early in the evening, Ouellet—who was the boat’s forward gunner—observed movement along the shore and alerted his captain to investigate. As the PBR approached the riverbank, a Việt Cộng combatant lobbed a grenade into the boat in the near-darkness. Ouellet quickly realized his crewmates had not spotted the grenade entering the boat. He left his gunner position and ran toward the stern, shouting a warning, then pushed his exposed captain out of the way and placed himself between the grenade and the rest of the crew just as it detonated. Ouellet was killed in the blast, but saved the lives of his crewmates in the process. Seaman David G. Ouellet has his name engraved on row 30 of panel 16E of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
The names of the fallen inscribed on the Memorial Wall in Washington are listed in chronological order by date of death. Along with the above four Medal of Honor recipients, and bookended by Yabes (15E; Row 102) and Ouellet (16E; Row 30), another 285 Americans were killed in Vietnam between February 26 and March 6, 1967. The mission of the United States Vietnam War Commemoration is to thank an honor these men, as well as all veterans of our nation’s armed forces, for their service, valor, and sacrifice.1
1The information for this week’s entry was compiled from the following resources: “Medal of Honor Recipients: Vietnam War,” U.S. Army Center of Military History, http://www.history.army.mil/moh/vietnam-a-l.html (accessed 3/1/16); “The Wall of Faces,” Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, http://www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces/ (accessed 3/1/16); The Medal of Honor Society, http://www.cmohs.org (accessed 3/1/16); and The Virtual Wall, http://www.virtualwall.org/index.html (accessed 3/1/16).