The Silver Star
by: Hank Ortega, PA/C
(© Copyright, 1998)
My silver star citation speaks for itself. Standing there afterwards, covered with blood, tired, scared and sweaty I didn't feel all that heroic, and indeed my actions that day were pretty much my actions in other engagements for the rest of the year. I moved forward when men were hit and pretty much expected the rest of the guys to keep the enemy off my ass until I could finish doing the rescue or patching up the guys I was treating. For their part, the other soldiers knew I and other medics would be doing just that and they did their best to cover us. That it often involved moving under fire was part of the job, and I think I got terribly lucky that I never got shot. This particular action was my first fire fight. I was with the platoon that I’d been assigned to (3d platoon, C, 1/327) sitting in the cp behind the corner position of an “L” shaped ambush. We could see the corner fighting position, and the one beyond it as well as the last one on the long leg of the “L” nearest the corner. In less time than I expected there were NVA soldiers standing in the kill zone, and they had already seen the guys in the corner fighting position. The gooks fought well, because two of them had sprayed down the position, and were moving through the line toward the CP at a dead run, firing their AK’s on full auto.
The one in the lead, shot my position up with a full magazine. I had dropped to the ground on my face, and felt the rounds hitting my aid bag and my shirt, that had spread out around me as I lay there. With my head turned to the right, I saw SFC Valley get hit in the forehead and drop face down next to me stone dead. His helmet rolled off his head and inside it I could see little bits of brain and blood. He never even twitched.
The shooting stopped for just a second and I shot to my knees, with my pistol drawn, the lead gook had run his AK dry and was trying desperately to change magazines. I jerked the .45 up and shot him once in the face. He dropped over backwards. The guys in the positions had taken out the enemy in their immediate area. I ran forward to render aid in the most hotly contested area, since that was where the guys were yelling for a medic. While I patched the guys up I was pretty exposed, but I could hear the sergeants yelling at the guys, directing fire and maneuver, and generally kicking ass. Tracers and ball snapped past me and the wounded, and struck all around us, some hitting my wounded as I was trying to patch them up or move them. I didn’t pay much heed to the fight at the time, since most of the rounds coming my way were missing. That was encouraging even though I was scared shitless. As long as I wasn't hit, I kept moving fast from one man to another.
I finished my work as the guys finished theirs. I could hear them finishing off the enemy fallen, cursing them and delivering coups de gras. We pulled out, under an active watch, evac’ing the wounded. Bruce Haas had gotten hit in the shoulder that day, and was one of the first of the wounded that I had patched up. He went home. Valley, and Trevino died that day, others were injured.
My working definition of courage is that in spite of being scared, one drives on and does what is needed, regardless of the fear. Heroism includes the above but is further defined by doing the RIGHT things, quicker than the enemy. As I said, the citation speaks for itself, and these type of actions were repeated almost daily by myself and others who were better men than me.