A big event will happen Monday for a genuine American hero living in Leavenworth. Fifty years ago Monday, on March 20, 1967, a young Army medic from Lincoln, Nebraska, was with his infantry platoon on an operation in Vietnam when it and other units of the 1st Cavalry Division were ambushed by a much larger North Vietnamese army (NVA) force.
The young medic had rated an expert on the firing range in basic training, which would stand him and his platoon in good stead that fateful day. The rest of this narrative is from his citation for ourcountry’shighest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, a feature article about his unit’s battle in the January 2017 VFW Magazine and personal discussions with my longtime friend.
Fifty years ago, he was Pfc. Charles C. Hagemeister. When he retired from Fort Leavenworth in the 1990s, he was Lt. Col. Hagemeister. To his many friends in the area today, he is simply Chuck. When he retired, he and wife, Barbara, decided, as have many other military retirees, that Leavenworth is a pretty good place to live, so they are still here.
But back to March 1967. When the NVA ambush occurred, the platoon took casualties immediately. As the medic, Hagemeister got busy immediately. According to Spec. 4 Robert Fisher, “I saw a man doone of the most incredibly brave things that day.” That man was Hagemeister.
According to his citation, “His repeated heroic and selfless actions at the risk of his life saved the lives of many of his comrades and inspired their actions in repelling the enemy assault.” One thing he did was pick up a rifle from a fallen soldier and shoot an NVA sniper out of a tree. He then shot three NVA who were silhouetted against a burning village, and for good measure, silenced an NVA machine gun. Hequickly drew the attention of remaining NVA, who tried to silence the quiet medic from Nebraska. All they succeeded in doing was put several holes through the pack on his back.
That battlefield relic is now on view in the Leavenworth VFW for interested persons to see. I borrowed it several times for Vietnam War displays I provided in CGSC’s Bell Hall, and it always drew attention.
The above information is a bit about what he did that night, but not all. He ran through the dark of the forest to bring firepower and assistance from a nearby unit, and after two days of fierce battle, the GIscarried the day.
Fast forward a few years and Spec. 5 Hagemeister was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. He had heard nothing about the Medal of Honor, so did not reenlist when his time was up. A few weeks before he wasto re-enter civilian life, the orders came through. Hagemeister was to report to the Pentagon where he would be awarded our highest medal by President Lyndon Johnson. He would be the Army representative in thevery first multiple ceremony honoring an Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force recipient. He later found out that he was the first Army recipient who did not concurrently receive the Purple Heart, as he had not been wounded, something that to this day has never bothered him, he said.
As the president draped the coveted blue ribbon around his neck, he said how proud we could be that men like Hagemeister were staying in the Army. Hagemeister told him he couldn’t stay as he had missed the deadline to re-enlist. Johnson turned to Gen. Harold K. Johnson, Army chief of staff, and said “General, I’m sure you can take care of that little detail.” And sure enough, that little detail was taken care of, and Hagemeister later became an armor branch officer, from which he retired.
I had the great pleasure of taking the Hagemeisters on a tour of the WW I Museum several years ago, and was his guest atthe 1989 Medal of Honor convention in Albuquerque, surely the most memorable weekend of this history buff’s life.
Have a happy 50th anniversary Monday, old friend.
John Reichley is a retired Army officer and Department of the Army civilian employee.