Talk about a coincidence. For three years, my favorite source for column ideas has been a small calendar titled “This Day in U.S. Military History.” A couple of months ago, I was stunned to find an entry about the Medal of Honor to Navy corpsman Don Ballard of Kansas City, the only living recipient in Missouri.
I mentioned in the column that he was the only recipient I’d seen in the whole calendar. Well, not anymore.
When I turned to today’s date to see what happened in U.S. history, I was quite surprised to find the entry “First Marine wins Medal of Honor for action in Vietnam.” In three years of looking through the calendar, I had not seen it before. Ergo, that is today’s subject.
On this date in 1965, a patrol from the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, USMC, was on a mission in Vietnam. Led by Lt. Frank Reasoner of Kellogg, Idaho, the patrol was ambushed by a Viet Cong force of undetermined size while searching for Viet Cong in the vicinity of the USAF airbase in Da Nang.
Reasoner ordered his men to lay down a base of fire then repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire, killing two enemy and single-handedly wiping out an enemy machine gun emplacement. He then raced through enemy fire to rescue his injured radio operator. While rallying his men, Reasoner was hit by machine gun fire and killed instantly. For his actions that day, he was recommended for America’s highest award for valor, and became the first Marine to receive the coveted Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War.
Reading the above caused a bit of a flashback for me. On the most exciting weekend ever for this avowed history lover, in 1989 I was invited by Chuck Hagemeister of Leavenworth to be his guest at the annual meeting of the living recipients of the Medal of Honor.
On our one stop en route to Albuquerque, Bob O’Malley of New York City came aboard and was the first other recipient I met during that storied weekend. In talking to him later, he said he was the first living Marine Corps recipient of the Vietnam War. I never asked how many Marines before him received the award, but the above information about Lt. Reasoner answered the lingering 28-year-old question. Reasoner was the only one. His action was July 12, and O’Malley’s was on Aug. 18, just 37 days later. I did not check all recipients from Vietnam, but the chance of another award within 37 days is so slim I am sure O’Malley was only the second Marine so honored.
I’ve not heard from him since the glorious weekend 28 years ago, but have not read that he has died since, as so many others I met that weekend have. I suppose my lesson learned from this is to go through the little calendar page by page, slowly checking (again) all entries. I am still mystified how I could not have seen this in three years of checking. And no, my optometrist says my glasses are just fine. And for the record, whoever wrote the headline above is awarded a bunch of demerits. Those who wear the coveted award do not consider themselves to be “winners.” They say they are “recipients.”
John Reichley is a retired Army officer and Department of the Army civilian employee.