first published on November 8, 2019 by Will
On November 8, 1965, SPC-5 Lawrence Joel, a medic with the 1st Battalion, 503rd Airborne Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade went well above the the call of duty during a 24-hour firefight on a Vietnam battlefield, earning himself the Medal of Honor as well as a Silver Star.
While on patrol, Joel’s company was ambushed my a massive force of Viet Cong insurgents, and nearly every member of the lead squad was killed or wounded. Joel instantly rushed into the active kill zone and began treating wounded and pulling them to the rear.
Joel was soon shot in the leg and sustained a serious wound. He treated himself quickly and went back to work searching for wounded paratroopers on the front line of the brutal battle, exposing himself repeatedly to hostile enemy fire. Joel was then shot a second time in the thigh.
He treated thirteen casualties before his medical supplies ran out, and then grabbed a piece of plastic trash to treat and seal another man’s sucking chest, which saved that paratrooper’s life. That improvised procedure is now regularly taught in combat lifesaver courses throughout the military.
With multiple, significant gunshot wounds to his legs, Joel could have left the battle to safety on the resupply helicopter. Instead, he topped off his medical supplies and returned to the fight to treat the wounded as casualties continued to mount. Forty-nine US paratroopers were killed before the battle was over.
Joel, a veteran of the Korean War as well, reportedly shouted words of encouragement to the men of his company as they fought for survival, and at no point lost sight of the mission or his duty as a medic. Eventually, Joel’s leadership ordered him to get on a MEDEVAC bird to be treated for his severe wounds.
SPC-5 Joel was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Johnson on March 9, 1967, on the South Lawn of the White House. He was the first living black man to be awarded the Medal of Honor since the Spanish-American War, and was also the first medic of the Vietnam War to earn the medal as well.
The following video pays tribute to Nialls Harris, a Sky Soldier wounded in the battle, but also honors Joel as well.