Citation awarded for extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry to 86 members of the Army's Troop A, First Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment.
NOTE from Larry Scott, VA Watchdog dot Org ... There was some question as the whether President Obama would present this Unit Citation ... that story here ...
We have two pieces of information ... first an article from CNN ... then, the text of the President's remarks.
Vietnam vets receive presidential citation for heroism
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Nearly 40 years after members of a U.S. cavalry unit put their lives in peril to save 100 fellow soldiers trapped under blistering enemy fire in Vietnam, they received the Presidential Unit Citation on Tuesday.
It's an honor their captain says is long overdue.
President Obama awarded the citation for extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry to 86 members of the Army's Troop A, First Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment.
"These soldiers defined the meaning of bravery and heroism," Obama said at a White House reception honoring the group's heroics.
"It's never too late. You can never say it enough. ... We honor your service, and America is forever grateful."
On March 26, 1970, the 120-member Troop A volunteered to rescue an American infantry company surrounded by an overwhelming enemy force at a site on the Cambodian border called the Dog's Face. The enemy had survived hours of aerial and artillery bombardment and was expected to kill or capture the 100 American infantrymen in Company C within hours. The Americans were running out of ammunition and could not move because of heavy casualties. There were no available landing zones for medical and rescue helicopters to touch down.
Alpha Troop heard of their plight on a radio and rode in with an infantry company to rescue their comrades.
"Troop A skillfully penetrated four kilometers of nearly impassable jungle terrain and unhesitatingly mounted a fierce assault directly into the heavily fortified North Vietnamese army position," the presidential proclamation states.
When the battle was over, more than 70 Americans lay dead or wounded.
For retired Capt. John Poindexter, who led the rescue, the award is for all Vietnam veterans, many of whom came home to an unwelcome and sometimes hostile reception.
"The veterans of Alpha Troop feel very strongly that we stand in the stead of all veterans of the war of Vietnam," Poindexter told CNN before the ceremony. "The fact is that we're being singled out for a very distinct honor, a very rare one, but it is our conviction that on any day in any other jungle in Vietnam, nearly every Vietnam veteran would have been willing to assume the task that we assumed on March 26, 1970, when we earned the Presidential Unit Citation."
Poindexter had been trying to gain recognition for his men for the past seven years. Initially, he felt deep disappointment.
In 2003, he discovered that the men he had recommended for decorations for their valor had not received those citations. Eventually, 14 men received individual decorations.
That was not enough.
"My role in obtaining the PUC [Presidential Unit Citation] -- or in helping to obtain the PUC -- among the 200 persons who were involved in this matter over a seven-year period, was to be in the unhappy position of discovering that the men who I had recommended for decorations had not been recommended, had not been awarded those decorations," the retired captain said.
"The result of that was that we got 14 men decorated for their valor, but 14 men out of more than 120 who were engaged in the battle on that fateful day were only a pittance, only a minority, of those who might have been honored. Only a unit citation could honor all equally and impartially, and it was that task we set ourselves on nearly seven years ago. "
He believes lack of popular support for the war had much to do with it taking so long for Alpha Troop to be recognized.
"There's little question in our minds that the unpopularity of the war in Vietnam is a major contributing factor to the reception these men received when they returned to the United States and a major factor, in my opinion, in the silence that most of them have assumed since then," Poindexter said.
"Why talk about something that most people don't have a very high opinion of in all likelihood? And if that isn't true, nevertheless, it's what most of these men think. They were engaged in an unpopular venture that has bedeviled them for much of their adult lives."
Now, the circle has been closed.
"It's a very elevating experience to see the men that I have not seen for 40 years since War Zone C in Vietnam," the former captain said. "These are persons who have had success in life, and some have not had a lot of success in life, and to see how they've turned out, how they look these days, and to know I'll be with them in the White House [Tuesday] is a very fulfilling sensation for me.
"For me, the sensation of being honored is one of having closed an important chapter on my life in a very fruitful and rewarding way."
The Presidential Unit Citation is awarded to armed forces units of the United States and allies for extraordinary heroism against an armed enemy on or after December 7, 1941. The unit must display such gallantry, determination and esprit de corps under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions so as to set it apart from and above other units participating in the same campaign.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
IN AWARDING THE PRESIDENTIAL UNIT CITATION
TO ALPHA TROOP, 1ST SQUADRON, 11TH ARMORED CAVALRY
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to the White House. And welcome to a moment nearly 40 years in the making.
Last month, I was privileged to present the parents of an American soldier, Sergeant First Class Jared Monti, with our nation's highest decoration for valor -- the Medal of Honor. Today, we celebrate the awarding of our nation's highest honor for a military unit -- the Presidential Unit Citation.
The Presidential Unit Citation is awarded for "gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps in accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions." Since its creation during the Second World War, it has only been bestowed about 100 times.
Today, another unit assumes its rightful place in these ranks -- Alpha Troop, 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry, the legendary Blackhorse Regiment.
To mark this occasion we're joined by Congressman -- and Vietnam veteran -- Leonard Boswell; Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Jim "Hoss" Cartwright; John McHugh, our Army Secretary; and Vice Chief of Staff Peter Chiarelli; from Fort Irwin, California, leaders of today's 11th Armored Cavalry -- Colonel Paul Laughlin and Command Sergeant Major Martin Wilcox; and most of all, the men of Alpha Troop -- those behind me and some 100 here today.
Now, these men might be a little bit older, a little bit grayer. But make no mistake -- these soldiers define the meaning of bravery and heroism.
It was March 1970, deep in the jungles of Vietnam. And through the static and crackle of their radios Alpha Troop heard that another unit was in trouble. Charlie Company, from the 1st Calvary Division, had stumbled upon a massive underground bunker of North Vietnamese troops. A hundred Americans were facing some 400 enemy fighters. Outnumbered and outgunned, Charlie Company was at risk of being overrun.
That's when Alpha Troop's captain gave the order: "Saddle up and move out."
As these men will tell you themselves, this isn't the story of a battle that changed the course of a war. It never had a name, like Tet or Hue or Khe Sanh. It never made the papers back home. But like countless battles, known and unknown, it is a proud chapter in the story of the American soldier.
It's the story of men who came together, from every corner of America, of different colors and creeds. Some young -- just 18, 19 years old, and just weeks in the jungle; some older -- veterans hardened by the ugliness of war. Noncommissioned officers who held the unit together and the officers assigned to lead them.
It's the story of how this team of some 200 men set out to save their fellow Americans. With no roads to speak of, they plowed their tanks and armored vehicles through the thick jungle, smashing a path through bamboo and underbrush, mile after mile, risking ambush and landmines every step of the way, and finally emerging from the jungle to the rescue -- what one member of Charlie Company called "a miracle."
It's a story of resolve. For Alpha Troop could have simply evacuated their comrades and left that enemy bunker for another day -- to ambush another American unit. But as their captain said, "That's not what the 11th Cavalry does."
And so, ultimately, this is a story of what soldiers do -- not only for their country, but for each other: the troopers who put themselves in the line of fire, using their tanks and vehicles to shield those trapped Americans; the loaders who kept the ammunition coming, and the gunners who never let up; and when one of those gunners went down, the soldier who jumped up to take his place.
It's about the men who rushed out to drag their wounded buddies to safety; the medics who raced to save so many; the injured who kept fighting hour after hour. And finally, with dark falling, as the convoy made the daring escape back through the jungle, these soldiers remained vigilant, protecting the wounded who lay at their feet.
The fog of war makes a full accounting impossible. But this much we know. Among the many casualties that day, some 20 members of Alpha Troop were wounded. And at least two made the ultimate sacrifice -- their names now among the many etched in that black granite wall not far from here. But because of that service, that sacrifice, Alpha Troop completed its mission. It rescued Charlie Company. It saved those 100 American soldiers, some of who join us today. And those soldiers went on to have families -- children and grandchildren who also owe their lives to Alpha Troop.
Now, some may wonder: After all these years, why honor this heroism now? The answer is simple. Because we must. Because we have a sacred obligation. As a nation, we have an obligation to this troop. Their actions that day went largely unnoticed -- for decades -- until their old captain, John Poindexter, realized that their service had been overlooked. He felt that he had a right to wrong. And so he spent years tracking down his troopers and gathering their stories, filing reports, fighting for the Silver Stars and Bronze Stars they deserved and bringing us to this day.
Thank you, John.
We have an obligation to all who served in the jungles of Vietnam. Our Vietnam vets answered their country's call and served with honor. But one of the saddest episodes in American history was the fact that these vets were often shunned and neglected, even demonized when they came home. That was a national disgrace. And on days such as this, we resolve to never let it happen again.
Many of our Vietnam vets put away their medals, rarely spoke of their service and moved on. They started families and careers. Some rose through the ranks, like the decorated Vietnam veteran that I rely on every day, my National Security Advisor, Jim Jones.
Indeed, I'm told that today is the first time in 39 years that many from Alpha Troop have pulled out their medals and joined their old troop. Some of you still carry the shrapnel and the scars of that day. All of you carry the memories. And so I say, it's never too late, we can never say it enough. To you and all those who served in Vietnam, we thank you. We honor your service. And America is forever grateful.
Today also reminds us of our obligations to all our veterans, whether they took off the uniform decades ago or days ago -- to make sure that they and their families receive the respect they deserve, and the health care and treatment they need, the benefits they have earned and all the opportunities to live out their dreams.
And finally, if that day in the jungle, if that war long ago, teaches us anything, then surely it is this. If we send our men and women in uniform into harm's way, then it must be only when it is absolutely necessary. And when we do, we must back them up with the strategy and the resources and the support they need to get the job done.
This includes always showing our troops the respect and dignity they deserve, whether one agrees with the mission or not. For if this troop and our men and women in uniform can come together -- from so many different backgrounds and beliefs -- to serve together, and to succeed together, then so can we. So can America.
I cannot imagine a more fitting tribute to these men, who fought in what came to be called The Anonymous Battle. Troopers, you are not anonymous anymore. And with America's overdue recognition also comes responsibility -- our responsibility as citizens and as a nation, to always remain worthy of your service.
God bless Alpha Troop and the 11th Armored Cavalry. God bless all those who wear this nation's uniform. And God bless the United States of America.
Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)