Secretary of Defense
Medal of Honor Hall of Heroes Ceremony For Specialist Five James C. McCloughan
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. G.K. Chesterton once said: “Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water, and yet drink death like wine.”i.
Senator Peters, Deputy Secretary Shanahan, Secretary Speer – wonderful words. General Milley, great words. Sergeant Major Dailey, but most of all, to Charlie Tigers and Specialist Five Jim McCloughan... Cherie, you married well to a most wonderful person. They met at the Messiah, a reminder for all you young troops to go to church.
To the holders of the Medal of Honor who are here today, between you, Charlie Tigers, and Jim, you remind us of the gravity of the decisions we make in this building, the support we owe in this building, and the enduring truth of combat – the need for a level of physical stamina that goes beyond words to describe it.
I would just tell you that your example, your story are welcome here with all the humbling impact it has on every one of us, regardless of rank. You’re a comrade in arms who reminds us what it is we’re all about.
“Left unsung,” a Greek poet wrote many, many years ago, a couple thousand, “Left unsung even the noblest deed will die.”ii. And thanks to the U.S. Congress, we are now going to make certain that story will not die when Charlie’s Tigers move on to meet their buddies.
We will not deprive the rising generation of this vision of valor. For in the fullness of time, they will give us the heroes we hold up for them to be, for life. And that’s exactly what will happen in this building as each generation of warriors comes through the U.S. military.
Today, Jim, we hold you up. And I tell you, sir, that while this honor is long overdue, it comes in earnest. We are very, very honored to have you, your bride, and your family here today. We stand in respect of you and of your warrior brothers and of your heroic sacrifice.
You stand as a living example of America’s awesome determination to defend herself – or what President Trump called yesterday, and I quote, “America’s unbreakable spirit.”
This son of South Haven, Michigan; a four-sport varsity athlete; a collegiate wrestler, football player, baseball player, he had planned for himself a life of quiet excellence in the classroom, giving a hundred percent there as your father had taught you, Jim, as a teacher, as a coach…and then destiny tapped him on the shoulder, as it does to some men.
Jim McCloughan was drafted into the army at age twenty-two.
And I remember those days. I showed the Army – I ran down and joined the Marine infantry when it came my way. Not the brightest draft dodger that ever walked the face of the earth.
But I would tell you too, if we look at your Army service, we detect a higher purpose unfolding: your longtime love of athletics had bestowed a basic knowledge of sports medicine in you, and it was ideally situating you for the medical specialist mission.
And your competitive spirit – which still shines through loud and clear today, soldier – and your physical daring, so often displayed on the football field, you would make yourself a lifeline on the battlefield.
Eight thousand miles away from his Michigan home, near Tam Kỳ, Vietnam; in the most atavistic, and I would say primitive environment on earth, James McCloughan lived the “contradiction of courage.”
There the man his comrades called “Doc” stood tall when every human instinct would have kept the ordinary man down flat on his stomach.
And Jim, you were not ordinary, nor were your battle buddies that day.
With the heat index over a hundred degrees when you assaulted into that area, Specialist Four Bill Arnold was thrown from his chopper when it was downed by enemy fire. Then-Private McCloughan, the varsity football player, ran one hundred meters over open ground, again when any natural instinct would have said ‘just get down’; dodging crossfire, to rescue his wounded brother-in-arms and carry him to safety.
Remember the size of this soldier doing that – in the midst of that heat and that battle.
Bill later wrote, “I had seen him do some unbelievable stuff to save other soldiers before, but now he was risking his life for me. Only ‘Doc’ McCloughan would run toward the enemy while everyone else was running away.”
Hour after hour, Jim would rise again and again over those days.
Later, when his platoon was ambushed and wounded soldiers lay exposed to enemy fire…as airstrikes rained metal down on the enemy and all around them…the wrestler from South Haven ignored a direct order to remain under cover and went repeatedly into the “kill zone” to save his comrades. Think of that word ‘repeatedly.’
He was so close to the assaulting enemy forces that Sergeants Joe Middendorf and Doug Hatten, M60 machine gunners, feared they’d shoot their own medic, who still remembers to this day the machine gun bullets flying by his head. They said: “I saw his clothing move as shrapnel hit him … Doc never flinched.”
Though wounded, Private Jim McCloughan refused to evacuate. In a firefight, it’s the combat medic’s job to cheat death, and Jim knew it. When ordered to “Get on the chopper,” he replied simply, “You’re going to need me.”
In fierce fighting the following day, Jim was wounded by shrapnel and small arms fire while treating soldiers in an open rice paddy.
Night fell and supplies ran low. It was Private McCloughan who volunteered to hold a blinking strobe light in the dark – a beacon of hope to mark the place for the resupply drop. It was also a beacon for enemy fire. His lieutenant, Randall Clark, accurately assessed the situation: “McCloughan was a sitting duck.”
The fire was so thick, the resupply bird could not make the drop; it left riddled by more than twenty bullet holes.
When we think, Jim, of you lying there with the rocket-propelled grenades flashing overhead, the scriptures come to mind, Psalm 91: “You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day.” Though many fell around him; no harm could overtake Jim McCloughan.
As darkness dragged towards dawn, he continued to fight; he kept his boys alive for the evacuation at sunrise.
Kent Nielsen, now a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, was one of them. He said, “Without his aid, I believe I would have bled to death.”
In forty-eight hours of close combat, Jim sustained multiple wounds from shrapnel and small arms fire. He voluntarily risked his life nine separate times to rescue the wounded.
Only Providence and soldiers like those here today – who would not stop fighting – could bring him alive through such hell on earth.
We wonder how anyone could have such confidence. In Jim’s words, “To be confident, you have to be fit, physically, psychologically – and your soul has to be fit. If you do the best that you can, nobody can ask for any more.”
He did his best in Vietnam. And his best back home wasn’t too bad either.
He saved the lives of ten members of his company on those days on the battlefield. He touched ten thousand lives over the next forty years in the classroom and on the athletic field. He resumed his chosen path, his dream job as teacher and a coach.
For his life’s work; he has been inducted into three Michigan high school coaching halls of fame. Today, James McCloughan takes his place in this hall, where his name joins another hero of Nui Yon Hill: Private First Class Daniel Shea.
In every significant way, we have their warrior brothers to thank for this reunion. They petitioned that Jim’s Bronze Star with Valor be upgraded to the Medal of Honor. It puts Jim’s name where it belongs. But he does not see the honor as his alone. He says, quote, “It’s really not a Jim McCloughan medal…it’s a Charlie Company medal.” We’ll remember that message.
To the boys of Charlie Company, thank you.
Jim held the beacon that night in 1969; today he is the beacon. We in the Department of Defense are humbled and honored to join you in holding him high, a guide to others to keep their souls fit and always do the best they can, always serve each other.
Thank you. God bless you and the boys of Charlie Company. Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen.
- i. G.K. Chesterton, “Orthodoxy,” 1908.
- ii. Pindar, 522 – 443 B.C.