12:15 PM, November 14, 1965. Men of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry are patrolling the jungle near a dry creek bed in the Ia Drang Valley of South Vietnam. They know the enemy is near, as just a short time earlier a North Vietnamese soldier was captured, revealing to the 1/7th’s commander, Lt. Col. Hal Moore, that there were up to 1600 enemy soldiers on nearby Chu Pong Mountain, all very much wanting to kill Americans.
Shots rang out. 1st and 2nd Platoons of Bravo Company engaged the enemy, advancing abreast of one another. The bloody battle of Ia Drang had begun, the first major encounter between Americans and North Vietnamese troops. Pursuing the North Vietnamese on its right flank, 2nd Platoon came under intense fire in a clearing in the jungle. They initially held off the enemy, inflicting heavy casualties while suffering none of their own.
Then, however, the situation quickly disintegrated. The North Vietnamese attack persisted and intensified, and the men of 2nd Platoon soon began suffering serious losses, including their commander, Lt. Henry Herrick, who despite his mortal wounds, passed vital commands to his men and called in artillery support. Cut off from the rest of their forces, 2nd Platoon desperately held out from a defensive position, waiting for help to arrive. As the rest of the battalion fought to maintain a perimeter, men of Alpha Company under Captain Tony Nadal were ordered to relieve the isolated troops.
Leading the second attempt to relieve the isolated troops was 2nd Platoon, Alpha Company commander Lt. Walter Joseph Marm, Jr. A native of Washington, Pennsylvania, Marm graduated college in 1964 with a business degree. He enlisted in the Army, graduated Officer Candidate School, and attended Ranger School. However, the Army needed junior officers for a new unit being formed –the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), and he was reassigned to the division’s 7th Cavalry – George Armstrong Custer’s old unit – and by September, 1965, he was in Vietnam.
Marm’s men came under intense fire from the well-disciplined North Vietnamese forces and were forced to take cover in the thick underbrush. Seeing four enemy soldiers attempting to outflank his unit, he moved toward them through a hail of bullets, killing all of them. Then, seeing his men pinned down by a well-concealed machine gun, he intentionally exposed himself to its fire to determine its position, which turned out to be behind a large anthill-shaped berm. Lt. Marm then took a bazooka, aimed at the position, and fired.
Despite inflicting casualties on the enemy, his shot failed to knock out the gun. Marm then charged over open ground through the fire, hurling grenades into the enemy position, taking out eight of the enemy before eliminating the remainder with his M-16 rifle. As he turned to motion his men to move forward to relieve their trapped comrades, he was shot through the jaw. Two of his men rushed forward to treat him. He was escorted to the command post at LZ X-Ray, and medevaced out of the battle zone.
The men of the Lost Platoon held out through the night of the 14th, and were eventually rescued and evacuated the next day. And by the morning of November 16, the reinforced Americans held the advantage, having inflicted thousands of casualties on the enemy, which was no longer capable of putting up a fight. Still, the battle at LZ X-Ray, and the ensuing ambush of the Americans at LZ Albany proved that the North Vietnamese were an enemy to be taken seriously.
Even more evident was that in combat, the generation of American servicemen serving in Vietnam was as brave, and noble, as any that has come before or since. Lt. Marm and his comrades proved that to be true.
Walter Joseph Marm was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Ia Drang. In 1969, he asked to return to Vietnam for a second tour of duty. He was allowed to return only after signing a waver that putting himself back in harm’s way was entirely his own choice.
Marm retired from the Army a colonel, a member of the elite fraternity of men who have received America’s highest military award. Those men are a testament to the American soldier’s courage under fire and nobility in all situations, both on and off the battlefield. For his gallantry in Vietnam and dedication to service since, the American Veterans Center is proud to present Col. Walter Joseph Marm, Jr. the 2008 Joe Ronnie Hooper Award.