Obama Recognizes Cavalry Troop for Vietnam Gallantry
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 20, 2009 President Barack Obama today paid a long-overdue tribute to the Vietnam War-era soldiers of Alpha Troop, 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, in a ceremony at the White House Rose Garden.
Obama awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, the nation’s highest award for a military unit, for the troop’s actions March 26, 1970, in Vietnam. Eighty-six former soldiers who served in Alpha Troop then were on hand for the ceremony, and although it’s been nearly four decades since many of them served, Obama said, the heroism they displayed will never be forgotten.
“Welcome to a moment nearly 40 years in the making,” Obama said. “These men might be a little bit older, a little bit grayer, but make no mistake -- these soldiers define the meaning of bravery and heroism.”
Without concern for their own safety, the soldiers of Alpha Troop tended to the rescue of a company of fellow soldiers heavily outnumbered by the North Vietnamese army. The company of only 100 or so soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division came across an underground bunker of around 400 North Vietnamese troops and was at risk of being overrun.
Alpha Troop soldiers heard the situation over their radio and quickly assembled. Their commander gave the order: “Saddle up and move out,” Obama said, and the soldiers plowed their way through the jungle.
“These men will tell you themselves, this isn’t the story of a battle that changed the course of the war. … But like countless battles, known and unknown, it is a proud chapter in the story of the American soldier,” he said. “It’s a story of resolve. For Alpha Troop could have simply evacuated their comrades and left that enemy bunker for another day to ambush another American unit. But their captain said, ‘That’s not what the 11th Cavalry does.’”
The president praised the 200 men of Alpha Troop, calling their valiant actions “a story of what soldiers do, not only for their country, but for each other.”
Those soldiers put themselves in the line of fire and continued fighting, even when one of their own was wounded, he said. About 20 members of Alpha Troop were wounded that day, and at least two were killed. Nevertheless, they continued their mission and rescued the company.
“[Alpha Troop] saved those 100 American soldiers,” Obama said. “And those soldiers went on to have families -- children and grandchildren who also owe their lives to Alpha Troop.”
Despite the decades that have passed, Obama said, it’s never too late to recognize heroism. “Why honor this heroism now?” he asked. “The answer is simple: Because we must -- because we have a sacred obligation as a nation to this troop.”
Obama said the nation has an obligation to all who served in Vietnam. Many were shunned and neglected when they came home, the president said, and he pledged never to let that sort of “national disgrace” occur again.
“Many of our Vietnam vets put away their medals, rarely spoke of their service, and moved on,” he said. “All of you carry the memories, and so I say, ‘It’s never too late; we can never say enough.’
“I cannot imagine a more fitting tribute to these men who fought in what came to be called the ‘Anonymous Battle,’” he continued. “Troopers, you are not anonymous any more. And with America’s overdue recognition also comes responsibility – our responsibility as citizens and as a nation to always remain worthy of your service.”