Honoring Our Veterans: 6 Acts of Valor by American Heroes That Earned the Medal of Honor
To honor our veterans this Veterans Day, we’re presenting stories of incredible acts of valor that earned these American heroes the Medal of Honor.
Thomas “Patrick” Payne was Sgt. 1st Class in October 2015 when he was part of a joint task force assigned to a massive hostage rescue from an ISIS prison compound in Iraq. He helped clear two buildings and rescue 75 hostages. In the second building, suicide vests were detonated, rocking the building and starting a fire with 37 hostages locked inside. Payne heroically braved smoke, flames, and a barrage of automatic fire to cut several locks trapping the hostages. Despite being ordered to evacuate as the building was on the verge of collapse, he re-entered three times, dragging frightened and confused hostages to safety.
Sgt. Payne and his task force executed one of the largest hostage rescue missions in military history. On September 11, 2020, Army Ranger Sgt. Payne received the Medal of Honor for his actions that day.
Staff Sergeant David G. Bellavia was serving as a squad leader in Fallujah, Iraq, in November 2004. His team was supporting Operation Phantom Fury when they were assigned with clearing a block of buildings. The Bradley Fighting Vehicle that was intended to provide them support malfunctioned, leaving the group vulnerable. Upon entering the 10th building out of 12, Bellavia’s platoon was ambushed. The team retreated but was pinned down. The Army credits Bellavia with saving his entire squad by re-entering and clearing the insurgent strong point.
On June 7, 2019, David Bellavia became the first living Medal of Honor recipient from service in the Iraq War.
Green Berets Master Sergeant Matthew Williams and Staff Sergeant Ronald J. Shurer II both received Medals of Honor for their actions in the Battle of Shok Valley. The April 2008 battle raged for six hours and the Army estimates the team engaged over 200 militants. No Americans were killed in the battle, due in large part to Williams and Shurer’s courage and leadership. Eight other Green Berets received Silver Stars for their actions that day – a number unmatched since the war in Vietnam.
The events of the battle are detailed in the book "No Way Out: A Story of Valor in the Mountains of Afghanistan."
Specialist Five James C. McCloughan was a combat medic serving with Company C in May 1968 when his company was assaulted. After a helicopter was shot down, McCloughan raced 100 yards, braving fire from both armies, to rescue a soldier too wounded to move, and carried him to safety. During the 48 hours of the Battle for Niu Yon Hill, McCloughan entered the most dangerous area of battle, called the “kill zone,” a total of six times to rescue and treat his fellow soldiers. The Army recognizes him as having saved the lives of ten men in his company.
James C. McCloughan received his Medal of Honor on July 31, 2017.
As a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins and his team had just detained two suspected insurgents on June 1, 2007, when Travis recognized one of the insurgents had explosives beneath his clothing. Atkins tackled the suicide bomber moments before the bomb detonated, giving his life to save the lives of three U.S. soldiers who were with him.
Atkins’ son Trevor spoke in remembrance of his father, as Atkins posthumously received his Medal of Honor at the White House on March 27, 2019.
On May 15, 1967, in Vietnam, Charles Kettles was serving as a Major in the 101st Airborne Division. On this fateful day, he volunteered to lead a dangerous mission to assist a Brigade that had been ambushed by a larger and heavily fortified enemy. Twice that day, his helicopter took heavy damage from enemy fire and would have been downed if not for his elite piloting skills and incredible poise. Kettles is credited with saving the lives of an incredible number of 44 men that day.
After a grassroots campaign to honor the war hero, Kettles received his Medal of Honor in July 2016. He passed away in January 2019 at age 89.
At the ACLJ, we believe our heroes should be honored and not attacked. That’s why when the International Criminal Court (ICC) was considering prosecuting U.S. soldiers for so-called war crimes last year, we sent a team of our top lawyers to argue for the interest of our U.S. military members. That’s also why we stand up for their religious liberty in the face of seemingly constant attacks by atheist groups. Help us support our men and women in uniform and ensure their freedom to practice their faith today by signing the petition below.