Thirty-five years after his extraordinary heroism on the battlefield, James F. Sargent has received a second Purple Heart award.
Purple Heart medals are reserved for personnel who are wounded or killed in action against enemy forces. If a soldier is hit twice at the same instant, he receives one Purple Heart. But if he is wounded twice some time apart while continuing the same action, he receives two awards; an oak leaf cluster device worn with the Purple Heart symbolizes the second injury.
Until now, Sargent never received official recognition for his second wounding.
At the time a 23-year-old first lieutenant, he commanded the Army's Co. A, 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division. On June 17, 1968, as recorded on the official citation for the Silver Star medal that he also received, the group participated in a reconnaissance in force mission in Ap Dinh Hoa, South Vietnam.
"When his company came under intense rocket, automatic weapons and small arms fire, Lt. Sargent led his unit forward to combat the insurgent force," reads the citation. "When a rocket exploded nearby, Lt. Sargent was wounded in the legs and thrown to the ground."
He disregarded these painful wounds, it adds. Sargent continued to direct his men onward until he realized that artillery and air strikes were needed. While in the line of fire, "directing his men in a retrograde action," he was wounded again.
"Lt. Sargent continued to lead his men until he was sure everyone was safe, at which time he began to direct accurate artillery and airstrikes," the document adds.
Exposed to continual fire from automatic weapons and small arms, he helped evacuate the injured, adjusted supporting artillery and directed medical evacuation helicopters.
"Lt. Sargent refused evacuation until he felt the situation was under control," it adds. His "extraordinary heroism in close combat against a Viet Cong force is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service," says the citation.
He received the first Purple Heart award while he was recovering in a hospital, but always knew he was entitled to a second award.
Today a 58-year-old postal worker and a student at the University of Utah, Sargent was trying to get his military records in order when he decided to contact the Army about a second Purple Heart award. He wanted his children and descendants to see the correct information, he said.
"I've got children who know almost nothing about my military service," he told the Deseret Morning News in a telephone interview Tuesday. "I've never talked about it."
He called the office of Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.
"I provided them the information, and they went forward," Sargent said.
Tuesday morning, he was honored in a ceremony at the Utah National Guard headquarters in Draper, receiving the award. He is now entitled to wear an oak leaf cluster with a Purple Heart.
"James Sargent is an American hero," Matheson said in prepared comments. "His extraordinary story on the battlefield that day in Vietnam reminds us of how much the human spirit can endure, in the face of impossible odds.
"I am honored that he contacted our office and allowed us to play a small role in getting him the recognition he and his family deserve."
Maj. Gen. Brian L. Tarbet, adjutant general of the Utah National Guard, added in a comment faxed to the paper, "Individuals who receive this award are true American heroes who have risked their lives to protect the freedoms we enjoy as citizens of this great nation. We owe Mr. Sargent a deep debt of gratitude, and it is our honor to participate in this solemn occasion."
Sargent enlisted in the Army in 1966 and received infantry officer's training at Fort Benning, Ga. He spent a year at the fort as a tactical officer, then went to the front lines in Vietnam.
Six months after his arrival, he was wounded in the action at Ap Dinh Hoa. For three months he recuperated in a hospital in South Vietnam before returning to the United States.
"I've still got ramifications of that day, but certainly I consider myself recovered," Sargent said.
"I'm among the very fortunate."