There was a gathering of a very exclusive club this week in Boston. Living members of that club are rare to begin with, since so many who join do so after they have already paid the ultimate price. Living people who have won the Congressional Medal of Honor are few in number. Such a gathering did take place, though. The Boston Herald's Peter Gelzinis tells the story of one of one member of that club and of one of the people he saved in the process of earning the citation.
The paths that led Drew Dix and Maggie O’Brien to the same bullet-riddled house in Vietnam 38 years ago could not have been more different.
At the end of January 1968, Dix was a 23-year-old Special Forces sergeant from Pueblo, Colo., who was recruited by the CIA to lead small reconnaissance units of South Vietnamese mercenaries, whose mission was to engage the enemy well beyond any notion of a front line.
Maggie O’Brien was a civilian nurse from Dorchester who answered President Kennedy’s clarion call to service by going to Afghanistan with the Peace Corps. She could have nurtured her opposition to war with a protest seat at home. Instead she chose to make a pacifist stand by serving the besieged citizenry in the South Vietnamese province of Chau Doc.
“We were all punks,” Maggie O’Brien wryly noted to a reporter almost 30 years later, “young and idealistic.”
The same idealism that placed O’Brien in the very heart of war as a USAID nurse also drove Dix to rescue her from a communist onslaught that would forever be known as the Tet Offensive.
In the course of 56 extraordinary hours, Dix and the modest commando force he led managed to extricate O’Brien and eight other USAID civilian workers in the midst of withering fire before going back to free the wife and children of a deputy province chief.
The details of how Dix then went on to repel a much larger enemy force, capturing 20 prisoners (including the highest ranking North Vietnamese general officer ever seized), is one of those legendary feats memorialized forever in the citation that accompanies the Medal of Honor.
But it’s not necessarily something Dix likes to talk about all that much.
“I’ve received plenty of recognition in my life, too much in fact,” Dix said with a soft chuckle yesterday, after returning from a special sail aboard the Constitution, with that select brotherhood of heroes who’ve been visiting Boston this week.
Read the whole thing and the unlikeliest of friendships between the warrior and the pacifist. Thank you for your service, both of you.
Below the fold is the Medal of Honor citation for Staff Sergeant Drew Dix, along with the website where all the citations for every medal every awarded can be found.
DIX, DREW DENNIS
Rank and Organization: Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, U.S. Senior Advisor Group, IV Corps, Military Assistance Command. Place and date: Chau Doc Province, Republic of Vietnam, 31 January and 1 February 1968. Entered service at: Denver, Colo. Born: 14 December 1944, West Point, N.Y. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. S/Sgt. Dix distinguished himself by exceptional heroism while serving as a unit adviser. Two heavily armed Viet Cong battalions attacked the Province capital city of Chau Phu resulting in the complete breakdown and fragmentation of the defenses of the city. S/Sgt. Dix, with a patrol of Vietnamese soldiers, was recalled to assist in the defense of Chau Phu. Learning that a nurse was trapped in a house near the center of the city, S/Sgt. Dix organized a relief force, successfully rescued the nurse, and returned her to the safety of the Tactical Operations Center. Being informed of other trapped civilians within the city, S/Sgt. Dix voluntarily led another force to rescue 8 civilian employees located in a building which was under heavy mortar and small-arms fire. S/Sgt. Dix then returned to the center of the city. Upon approaching a building, he was subjected to intense automatic rifle and machine gun fire from an unknown number of Viet Cong. He personally assaulted the building, killing 6 Viet Cong, and rescuing 2 Filipinos. The following day S/Sgt. Dix, still on his own volition, assembled a 20-man force and though under intense enemy fire cleared the Viet Cong out of the hotel, theater, and other adjacent buildings within the city. During this portion of the attack, Army Republic of Vietnam soldiers inspired by the heroism and success of S/Sgt. Dix, rallied and commenced firing upon the Viet Cong. S/Sgt. Dix captured 20 prisoners, including a high ranking Viet Cong official. He then attacked enemy troops who had entered the residence of the Deputy Province Chief and was successful in rescuing the official's wife and children. S/Sgt. Dix's personal heroic actions resulted in 14 confirmed Viet Cong killed in action and possibly 25 more, the capture of 20 prisoners, 15 weapons, and the rescue of the 14 United States and free world civilians. The heroism of S/Sgt. Dix was in the highest tradition and reflects great credit upon the U.S. Army.
Other Medal of Honor citations are here. Most were awarded posthumously