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Richard Pittman -- tough as nails

Richard Pittman -- tough as nails

As Pittman and a Navy corpsman started forward, he almost collided with a Marine standing in the trail holding an M-60 machine gun. “You going to use this weapon?” Pittman asked. The Marine stared back blankly.

Pittman grabbed the gun and several belts of ammunition and moved toward the heaviest fighting. He was surprised by the number of dead and wounded Marines littering both sides of the trail. When his helmet was shot off his head, he hit the dirt.

He saw the corpsman get up and try to go to a wounded man, but he was hit and went down. As Pittman continued on, he quickly destroyed the two positions that shot at him. Then, standing up, cradling the machine gun in the crook of his arm and firing as he went, Pittman moved to the head of the column where the North Vietnamese regulars were rushing his beleaguered comrades.

As he reached the position where the leading Marines had fallen, he was suddenly attacked by thirty to forty of the enemy. He calmly established a position in the middle of the trail and, with bullets whizzing past his head, he raked the advancing enemy with devastating machine-gun fire.

He continued firing until he felt a concussion on his side. At first he thought he had been wounded, but his gun had been struck by enemy fire and disabled. He dropped it and picked up an AK-47 that one of the enemy soldiers had left; he continued firing until he was out of ammunition.

Next he picked up a .45 pistol left by a fallen Marine and used it to kill two enemy soldiers as they were almost on top of him. Finally out of ammunition altogether, he threw his only grenade.

Inexplicably, the remaining North Vietnamese retreated. Back at his own lines, he discovered that two-thirds of his company had been killed or wounded in the intense engagement.

Richard Pittman was discharged from the Marines in 1968. He was back home in Stockton, California, looking for work, when he learned that he was to receive the Medal of Honor. It was presented to him by President Lyndon Johnson at a White House ceremony on May 14, 1968. Pittman reenlisted in the Marines in 1970 and retired for good in 1988, having served for a total of twenty-one years.