"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Reluctant Hero

Pete Lemon

Fire Support Base Illingsworth
Republic of Vietnam
April 1, 1970

Peter Lemon was 19 years old, exhausted, scared, and fighting for his life.

His body was bleeding from numerous shrapnel wounds in his head, back, and neck. These had been inflicted by an enemy mortar that had exploded near him earlier. 

Specialist Four Lemon was fortunate. That same mortar round had literally vaporized one of his close friends and fellow soldiers.

For more than three hours the battle raged at Fire Support Base Illingsworth, one of two small American outposts in Tay Ninh Province. 

Pete and his 18-man platoon had just returned from another recon patrol hoping to get a good night's rest. But on this night there was no sleep to be found. Close to 400 enemy soldiers swarmed the small American outpost, and they had chosen the area of the perimeter defended by Pete's Platoon as their point of attack. 

Already the young soldier had successfully fought back two waves of enemy soldiers, survived the mortar attack, watched three friends die, and carried another wounded comrade to safety. Each time the enemy had come, Pete Lemon had fought with fury, determined that if he could survive THIS assault, the worst would be over. 

Wounded a second time, when a third wave appeared poised to over run the perimeter, it seemed that all hope for survival was lost. "I said to myself, 'You're not going to make it through this one'," Pete later recalled. 

Determined to go down fighting, the intrepid soldier found a working machine gun and jumped to the top of the berm (dirt pile surrounding the base camp) and, in a fully exposed position, continued to fire at the enemy.

Wounded yet a third time in that final assault, and reduced to having to fend off the enemy in hand-to-hand combat, somehow the fearless Army Ranger survived the night. 

In the days that followed, he surveyed the impact of that night from his hospital bed. Every man in the platoon had been wounded. Dead were three of his closest friends, Casey Waller, Nathan Mann, and Brent Street. 

His own wounds would require more than a month of hospitalization, yet he had refused to be evacuated until the other wounded had been flown to a field hospital. 

Peter Lemon's war was over and within six months, he had returned to his hometown in the state of Michigan as a civilian to try and forget an event that would forever haunt his dreams. 

When word arrived the following spring that President Nixon would present the Medal of Honor to him at the White House, Pete Lemon seriously considered turning down the award. There had been EIGHTEEN heroes on his section of the perimeter that night, three of whom had died. The Medal, if there was to be one, belonged to them ... not to Pete Lemon.

Eventually, the Army prevailed upon the young man from Michigan to accept his Country's highest award. Ten days after his 21st birthday, President Nixon greeted him at the White House and proclaimed him a "hero". 

Pete Lemon, who had become a naturalized U.S. citizen at the age of twelve, was the only Canadian-born Medal of Honor recipient of the Vietnam War and the first since World War II. It was not a role he had either sought or desired. 

Shortly after receiving the award, he moved to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. There he returned to college where he received Bachelors and Masters Degrees, and quietly built several successful businesses. Few people, including his closest friends from his college days, or even his next door neighbors, knew that Peter Lemon was a recipient of the Medal of Honor.

One of Pete's fellow Medal of Honor recipients had once said, "It's easier to EARN the Medal than to WEAR it." Pete didn't even try. But while he shunned public recognition of his military heroism, he never forgot the men who had been with him on that night. 

The survivors of the April Fools Day assault on FSB Illingsworth had tried to stay in touch through the years, attempted to support each other through the tough times of "survivor's guilt" and "what if?" questions. 

While visiting by phone with one of those comrades one night almost thirteen years after his moment of valor, Pete was asked about his Medal of Honor.

"Oh, I have it," Pete Replied.

"Where is it? Asked his friend.

"In a shoebox in my closet."

"You don't wear it?"


"Why not?"

"It isn't mine," Pete quickly answered. "It belongs to Casey Waller, Nathan Mann, Brent Street, and the guys in the unit."

In the weeks that followed, Pete thought often of that conversation. From time to time, he would look at the Medal and his name engraved on its back side, then put it away in the realization that it belonged to other men.

More years passed. Then one night while visiting with yet another of the men from his unit, his former comrade in arms put it into perspective. 

"Look Pete," his comrade told the reluctant hero, "Casey, Nathan and Brent are gone! If you really feel like that Medal belongs to them, you NEED to wear it. Every time you wear that Medal you are reminding people about guys like them who fought ... and died."

Pete Lemon
Today, Pete Lemon is the proud father of three children and works as a professional speaker for corporations and associations, and volunteers his free time to schools, veterans groups, and other organizations. 

It has taken 25 years from the date of his award for him to learn to become a Medal of Honor Recipient. 

Is he finally comfortable with it? Not really. The Medal he wears still belongs to other men in his own heart and mind.
It is FOR them that he accepts his role and accomplishes his newest mission ... hoping that when others see the five-pointed star hanging from its ribbon of blue around his neck that they will look beyond the Medal and see who and what it really stands for:
Casey Waller - Nathan Mann - Brent Street
and E Co (Recon), 2/8th Cav, 1st Cavalry Division

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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  1. Beautifully written post, and a wonderful testimony. I never met Pete Lemon, but I admire the guy and wish him all the best.
    Thanks, CJ

  2. Thank you for your support and your thoughtful comment, Byron.

  3. Thanks for all you did Pete Lemon. Speaks volumes for each & every one of us that was lost & for those of us that survived. If people only knew what we did to save each other in battle they would be speechless. Ordinary men who did extraordinary things without question or thought of the dangers we faced. Whatever it took to live we did without hesitation. You have my profound gratitude & respect my friend. We stand for each other no matter the outcome. We never gave up, quit, or backed away. We stood our ground.


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