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Medal of Honor Monday: Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Richard A. Anderson

Aug. 24, 2020 | BY Katie Lange , DOD News

During a fierce firefight in Vietnam, 21-year-old Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Richard A. Anderson watched as a grenade landed near his injured legs. Without hesitation, he made the decision to save the Marine helping him instead of himself. For that, he earned the Medal of Honor.

Two men jump hurdles on a track.
Hurdle Runners
Richard A. Anderson, left, competes at hurdles during high school. Anderson later joined the Marine Corps and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Photo By: Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website
VIRIN: 200819-M-ZZ999-064C

Anderson was born April 16, 1948, in Washington, D.C., but his family moved to Houston when he was young. He liked to play football and compete in track and field before graduating from high school in May 1966. Anderson remained in the area to attend San Jacinto Junior College for about a year and a half. 

By then, the war in Vietnam was raging, so Anderson left college. On April 8, 1968 — a week before he turned 20 — he joined the Marine Corps. He received training in Southern California and was shipped to Vietnam that fall.

Anderson was reassigned to the 3rd Marine Division shortly after he got there. He started as a rifleman and worked his way up to be assistant team leader of Company E of the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion. He was promoted to lance corporal on June 1, 1969. 

A shirtless man sits relaxed with his left hand resting on his face.
Vietnam Marine
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Richard A. Anderson relaxes during some down time while deployed in Vietnam.
Photo By: Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website
VIRIN: 200819-M-ZZ999-063

Less than three months later, Anderson would be put to the ultimate test.

During the early morning hours of Aug. 24, 1969, Anderson's recon team was patrolling near Vandegrift Combat Base in the Quang Tri province when they were ambushed. A hidden enemy opened up heavy automatic weapons and machine gun fire on them. 

Anderson was wounded in both legs and knocked to the ground almost immediately, but he still managed to fire back at the well-concealed attackers. Within a few minutes, Anderson was hit again, but he didn't give up the fight. He kept firing on the enemy, even while a fellow Marine was busy trying to tend to his leg wounds.

Soon, Anderson saw a grenade land between himself and the Marine giving him aid. Without hesitating, he immediately rolled over onto it to shield his comrade from the blast. 

A man in uniform poses for an official photo.
Richard A. Anderson
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Richard A. Anderson.
Photo By: Marine Corps
VIRIN: 680502-M-ZZ999-123

Anderson died, but his actions saved several Marines from the same fate.

Two years later, on Sept. 15, 1971, Anderson’s family accepted the Medal of Honor on his behalf. Vice President Spiro Agnew honored the fallen Marine during a ceremony at the White House.

Anderson's remains were returned to the U.S. and buried in Forest Park Cemetery in Lawndale, Texas. 

Anderson's life, while short, has not been forgotten. A Texas state veterans home in Houston that opened in early 2020 was named in his honor. Anderson's name is also inscribed beside thousands of other Vietnam veterans on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.

This article is part of a weekly series called "Medal of Honor Monday," in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military's highest medal for valor.