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Medal of Honor Monday: Army Sgt. Peter C. Lemon

Army Sgt. Peter Charles Lemon was injured several times during a lopsided attack in Vietnam, but he took out several enemy soldiers and refused to quit fighting until he lost consciousness. His courage to defend his base and his fellow soldiers earned him the Medal of Honor.

Close-up of a uniformed service member smiling for a black and white photo.
Army Sgt. Peter C. Lemon
Army Sgt. Peter C. Lemon, Medal of Honor recipient.
Photo By: Army
VIRIN: 240326-A-D0439-049Z
Lemon was born on June 5, 1950, in Toronto, to Charles and Geraldine Lemon. He has a sister, Judy, and a brother, Richard.  

The family immigrated to the U.S. when Lemon was 2 and set up their new lives in Tawas City, Michigan. About a decade later, he became a naturalized citizen. 

Lemon graduated from Tawas Area High School in 1968 and started working in a factory in nearby Saginaw, according to a 1971 article in the Escanaba Daily Press of Escanaba, Michigan. By then, however, the Vietnam War was raging, so Lemon enlisted in the Army in February 1969.  

After basic training, Lemon received advanced infantry training. He was sent to Vietnam in late July 1969, where he went to Recondo School, which teaches select troops about long-range reconnaissance techniques and small-unit tactics. The training earned him the coveted title of Army Ranger.  

By the spring of 1970, then-Spc. 4 Lemon was serving as an assistant machine gunner at Fire Support Base Illingworth, which was 5 miles from the Cambodian border and overlooked a heavily used North Vietnamese Army route. Several units were stationed there at the time, including Lemon's — Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division.  

The enemy obviously didn't want them there, so on April 1, the NVA launched a massive barrage of fire toward the base before sending in about 400 soldiers, who chose the perimeter defended by Lemon's platoon as their point of attack. 

The fight that ensued was too close for U.S. forces to use artillery. Soldiers also reported that dust from the large NVA contingent's movement was so thick that it jammed their machine guns and rifles.  

Lemon, 19, was one of those whose weapons were affected. When his machine gun and rifle eventually malfunctioned, he used hand grenades to fend off the intensifying attack. 

Four shirtless service members stand on a damaged mobile howitzer.
Fire Support Base Illingworth
Army soldiers survey their 8-inch mobile howitzer for damage caused by a rocket-propelled grenade at Fire Support Base Illingworth in Vietnam, April 1, 1970.
Photo By: Christopher Wilson, Army
VIRIN: 700401-A-D0439-018Y

After taking out a few enemy soldiers in his vicinity, Lemon chased down another and killed him in hand-to-hand combat. Lemon suffered fragment wounds from an exploding grenade but made it back to his defensive position so he could carry a more seriously wounded soldier to an aid station. Shortly afterward, Lemon was wounded a second time by enemy fire.  

Ignoring his injuries, the young specialist moved back to his position through a hail of gunfire and grenades. Quickly, he realized that their defensive sector was dangerously close to being overrun by the enemy. Without hesitation, Lemon pressed his counterattack, throwing hand grenades and engaging in hand-to-hand combat with enemy soldiers. He was injured a third time during the melee but still managed to successfully drive the enemy back.  

Then, after finding a machine gun that worked, Lemon stood on top of an embankment and, despite being in full view of the enemy, fired until he collapsed from his wounds and exhaustion. Lemon was taken to an aid station where he regained consciousness, but even then, he refused to leave the area until his more seriously injured comrades were evacuated.  

When the nearly three-hour battle was over, 24 U.S. soldiers were dead and more than 50 were wounded. Lemon was hospitalized for more than a month after the attack. He was also promoted to sergeant.  

Several people stand in a row for a photograph.
White House Ceremony
President Richard M. Nixon meets with Army Sgt. Peter C. Lemon and his family during a ceremony at the White House, June 15, 1971. Earlier in the day, Nixon awarded Lemon the Medal of Honor for his actions defending Fire Support Base Illingworth in Vietnam on April 1, 1970.
Photo By: Richard Nixon Presidential Library
VIRIN: 710615-O-D0439-008Y

Lemon came home from Vietnam later that year. On June 15, 1971, he received the Medal of Honor from President Richard M. Nixon during a ceremony at the White House. The young soldier dedicated it to three of his closest friends who died in the battle — Sgt. Casey Waller, Cpl. Nathan Mann and Sgt. Brent Street. 

Lemon left the Army the following year and returned to academics. He got a bachelor's degree from Colorado State University in 1979, then received his master's degree in business administration from the University of Northern Colorado two years later.  

He and his wife, Diane, whom he married a few months before he received the Medal of Honor, have three children. 

Lemon went on to have a successful career with various corporations and as a professional speaker. He also volunteered much of his time to schools, veterans' groups and other organizations.  

A person wearing a tuxedo and a medal around their neck smiles for a photo.
Army Sgt. Peter C. Lemon
Army Sgt. Peter C. Lemon, Medal of Honor recipient.
Photo By: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
VIRIN: 240326-O-D0439-072Y

In 1978, Lemon received the Certificate of Outstanding Achievement from President Jimmy Carter for his community efforts. In May 2009, he was presented with the Outstanding American by Choice award by President Barack Obama. 

Lemon, who settled in Colorado Springs, Colorado, continues to receive accolades for his work and valor. He was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame in 1994. In 2020, a portion of a highway in Michigan going through his hometown was named in his honor. Reports show Lemon also donated his Medal of Honor to his former high school in 2005 to serve as an inspiration to students.  

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.

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