Medal of Honor
HOOPER, JOE R.
Rank and organization: Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company D, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division
Place and date: Near Hue, Republic of Vietnam, 21 February 1968
Entered service at: Los Angeles, California
Born: 8 August 1938, Piedmont, South Carolina
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Staff Sergeant (then Sgt.) Hooper, U.S. Army, distinguished himself while serving as squad leader with Company D. Company D was assaulting a heavily defended enemy position along a river bank when it encountered a withering hail of fire from rockets, machine guns and automatic weapons. S/Sgt. Hooper rallied several men and stormed across the river, overrunning several bunkers on the opposite shore. thus inspired, the rest of the company moved to the attack. With utter disregard for his own safety, he moved out under the intense fire again and pulled back the wounded, moving them to safety. During this act S/Sgt. Hooper was seriously wounded, but he refused medical aid and returned to his men. With the relentless enemy fire disrupting the attack, he singlehandedly stormed 3 enemy bunkers, destroying them with hand grenade and rifle fire, and shot 2 enemy soldiers who had attacked and wounded the chaplain. Leading his men forward in a sweep of the area, S/Sgt. Hooper destroyed 3 buildings housing enemy riflemen. At this point he was attacked by a North Vietnamese officer whom he fatally wounded with his bayonet. Finding his men under heavy fire from a house to the front, he proceeded alone to the building, killing its occupants with rifle fire and grenades. By now his initial body wound had been compounded by grenade fragments, yet despite the multiple wounds and loss of blood, he continued to lead his men against the intense enemy fire. As his squad reached the final line of enemy resistance, it received devastating fire from 4 bunkers in line on its left flank. S/Sgt. Hooper gathered several hand grenades and raced down a small trench which ran the length of the bunker line, tossing grenades into each bunker as he passed by, killing all but 2 of the occupants. With these positions destroyed, he concentrated on the last bunkers facing his men, destroying the first with an incendiary grenade, and neutralizing 2 more by rifle fire. He then raced across an open field, still under enemy fire, to rescue a wounded man who was trapped in a trench. Upon reaching the man, he was faced by an armed enemy soldier whom he killed with a pistol. Moving his comrade to safety and returning to his men, he neutralized the final pocket of enemy resistance by fatally wounding 3 North Vietnamese officers with rifle fire. S/Sgt. Hooper then established a final line and reorganized his men, not accepting treatment until this was accomplished and not consenting to evacuation until the following morning. His supreme valor, inspiring leadership and heroic self-sacrifice were directly responsible for the company's success and provided a lasting example in personal courage for every man on the field. S/Sgt. Hooper's actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army.
Joliet Herald-News, Joliet, Illinois
January 22, 1986
Joe Hooper was the most decorated soldier during the Vietnam War
He walked as tall as Alvin York and Audie Murphy. But they earned their combat records in World Wars I and II. Joe earned his medals in that unpopular war. That place called Vietnam.
At the age of 17 Joe enlisted in the Navy. He liked the service life and planned a military career. But when it was time to reenlist in 1961, he changed to the Army. Joe ended up with the 101st Airborne Division and went to Vietnam where he earned The Congressional Medal of Honor.
...Company D. was assualting a heavily defended enemy position along a river bank when it encountered a withering hail of fire from rockets, machine-guns and automatic weapons. He rallied several men and stormed across the river, over running several bunkers on the opposite shore.
.....With utter disregard for his own saftey, he moved out under the intense fire again and pulled back the wounded, moving them to saftey...Joe was seriously wounded, but refused medical aid and returned to his men. With the relentless enemy fire disrupting the attack, he single-handedly stormed three enemy bunkers, destroying them with hand grenades and rifle fire, and shot two enemy soldiers who had attacked and wounded the Chaplin....
Finding his men under heavy fire from a house to the front, he proceeded alone to the building, killing its occupants with rifle fire and grenades By now his initial body wound had been compounded by grenade fragments, yet, despite the multiple wounds and loss of blood, he continued to lead his men against the intense enemy fire....
He gathered several grenades and raced down a small trench which ran the length of the bunker line, tossing grenades into each bunker as he passed by, killing all but two of the occupants... He then raced across an open field, still under enemy fire, to rescue a wounded man who was trapped in a trench. Upon reaching the man, he was faced by an armed enemy soldier whom he killed with a pistol... He neutralized the final pocket of enemy resistance by fatally wounding three North Vietnamese officers...
Joe was wounded seven times that day. But he wouldn't allow himself to be removed from the battlefield until all his men were safe. He finally passed out from loss of blood.
He regained consiousness in a field hospital. But Joe was still worried about his men, young men who depended upon the experience of the 29 year old sargent.
The next day he stole a rifle and hitched a ride back to his outfit. Technially, he was AWOL. But by the time the Army found him two days later, Joe had been wounded again.
President Richard Nixon pinned the Medal of Honor on Joe, who had been comissioned a 2nd Lt. He went on a speaking tour across the nation.
Then he asked to go back to Vietnam.
After two combat tours in the war, Joe had received 37 medals. They included two Silver Stars(one of them had started out as another recommendation for a second Medal of Honor), six Bronze Stars and eight Purple Hearts.
Joe returned to duty at Fort Polk, La. where he was training recruits. But he didn't fit in well with stateside duty and he resigned his comission in 1972.
Joe was disillusioned by the Army and its lack of discipline. He believed that discipline and training were what paid off in combat.
Joe's wife said he cried that day as he watched the news films showing the last of the American forces being pulled out of Vietnam. He told her all those lives and all those broken bodies had been wasted. He said we had accomplished nothing.
Joe made many speeches about his combat experiences. He told a reporter he could smell the enemy.
If someone asked, he would tell them about the day he won The Medal of Honor, "I had no choice that day, " Joe would say, "I did what I had to do."
That was Joe Hooper's philosophy in life. You do what you have to do at the time and face tomnorrow when it arrives.
Joe was in Louisville, Kentucky for the running of the Kentucky Derby, when he died on May 5,1979. He was found in a hotel room. He was 40 years old. He died a quiet death from a cerebral hemorrage while sleeping.
Eyewhittness Account of the Battle
By PSG.George Parker, Co D 2/501
The Delta Raiders were assualting a strong enemy position near Hue on the 21st of February when heavy enemy rocket, machine gun and automatic weapons fire halted the advance in front of a stream about 20 feet wide. Sgt. Hoope, a squad leader, got a few men together and dashed across the stream and up into the face of the enemy fire even though the enemy was firing from bunkers just on the opposite bank. Those bunkers were overrun, and soon the rest of the company got moving following Sgt. Hooper's example. A couple men were hit and left exposed to enemy fire, but Sgt. Hooper braved the fire and went out after him. He brought one man back, and then went after the second man. He got to him but was wounded in the process. Still he brought the man back to saftey and then went out again even though he was wounded himself. He found SSG.Thomas pinned down and tried to find where the fire was coming from.SP4 Mount was up in front of them so Sgt. Hooper called out to him to see if he could move between two small houses to locate the fire. Mount took one step between the houses and was hit in the leg. Because of his wound he couldn't move and the enemy fire was getting closer and closer. Sgt. Hooper took drastic action to prevent Mount from being killed. He moved around the left of the houses even though the enemy had manned bunkers not more than fifteen meters away from the side of the house. Somehow he got past these bunkers and behind the houses where he saw three bunkers connected by a trench. Sgt. Hooper got up and charged the first bunker (they were no more than 10 meters apart), throwing a grenade inside and then spraying it with rifle fire. This killed everyone inside and from behind this bunker he started firing into the second bunker, and this fire eliminated everyone in there. He got up and ran toward the third bunker just as an NVA radioman came out, and Sgt. Hooper shot him dead. Those bun kers had had rockets, automatic weapons, and a large radio comples in them. Sgt. Hooper then returned to the river bank where a lot of men were hesitant about going forward. But after seeing Sgt. Hooper they all got up to follow him; Just as they had deployed at the top of the bank three NVA jumped out of the bamboo and started firing their AK-47's, but the Chaplain was the only man hit. Still, everyone justy froze except Sgt. Hooper who fired away, dropping two of the enemy while the other managed to escape. Sgt. Hooper then bandaged the Chaplain's wound and helped him back to saftey. When he returned he led the men in a swamp up to the three bunkers he had just eliminated. In this sweep the other bunkers on the flank were overrun.
Sgt. Hooper moved ahead of his men at this point to analyse the situation and while forward saw three snipers running from a bunker in an effort to get to a house. Only two of them made it as Sgt. Hooper shot the third one down. Then taking a LAW, he hit the house they had just entered dead center and killed both men while setting the house ablaze. Over on the right the squad was getting heavy fire from two more houses and Sgt. Hooper proceeded to knock those out too. Still fire came from the right, and soon it was determined it was coming from a shrine in that area. Sgt. Hooper crawled forward with two other men and opened fire on it. The enemy fire soon ceased. Returning to his men, Sgt. Hooper led them in another sweep which overran a few more bunkers. Here they halted again and Sgt. Hooper climbed on top of the bunkers to fire on the enemy. While he was on top of it an NVA officer climbed out and pointed his rifle at Sgt. Hooper's head. Sgt. Hooper swung around but the NVA pulled the trigger first. However his weapon jammed and Sgt. Hooper found he was out of ammunition. The NVA started running, but Sgt. Hooper caught him and killed him with his bayonet. When he got back to his men he found they were under heavy automatic weapons from a house in front. Everyone was taking cover, bur Sgt. Hooper moved out alone and maneuvered around behind the house. He kicked in the back door and was fired on instantly, but the bullets missed by about an inch or less, and the NVA didn't have a second chance. Sgt. Hooper opened up with a fierce blast and then threw in two grenades as he left, the total affect killing all the defenders. as his men moved up they encountered stiff resistance. This was coming from the last line of defense where enemy bunkers were positioned in an inverted "U" with heavy fire coming from the row of bunkers on the left running perpendulicar to the line of advance. There was a trench running in front of the bunkers and Sgt. Hooper dashed down this trench with SP4 Urban following. As he passed each one he tossed a grenade into it and Urban made sure the job was done by pouring rifle fire into each one after the explosion. This killed all but two defenders who staggered out of one of the bunkers, shaken and bloody, they were taken prisioner. When they got to the last bunker they turned right and fired on two NVA behind the next bouker down the line. The NVA ducked down and Sgt. Hooper rushed up to the bunker from where he started firing on two more bunkers down the line, one housing a machine gun. He found out that the two NVA whom he had shot at were inside the bunker he was on and he dropped an incendiary grenade inside which was awfully affective. He kept on firing on the two bunkers, finally silencing one the the other. Just then he saw that SP4 Gray was wounded in a trench near the bunkers he had just been firing on. Enemy fire was still sweeping the field, but Sgt. Hooper rushed over to Gray because Gray couldn't get out of the trench and the enemy was firing on him. When Sgt. Hooper got there he sat his rifle down since he was out of ammunition and got into the trench to help Gray. Then SSG. Thomas threw Sgt. Hooper a .45 cal. pistol in case he needed it. Sgt. Hooper set the pistol down so that he could lift Gray with both hands, but just when he got him up he saw an NVA come out of nowhere and point his rifle at Sgt. Hooper's head. Before the NVA could pull the trigger though Sgt. Hooper had picked up the pistol and blasted him Then he took Gray back to a secure area and came back to reorganize hs men. We were setting up a line just beyond the final bunker lines and enemy fire was still coming in. But Sgt. Hooper and SP4 Urban spotted it and started firing. Then Sgt. Hooper crawled forward to check the damage and found three NVA lieutenants with their heads riddeled with bullets. After that we moved out into the field and pretty well cleaned up the area. Sgt. Hooper spent a lot of time taking care of the wounded and finally looked after his own wounds only after he had his men setteled down.
Sgt. Joe R. Hooper in one day accomplished more than I previously believed could have been done in a month by one man. And he did it all while wounded. It wasn't just the actual count of posotions overran and enemy killed which was important, but fam more so was the fantastic inspiration he gave every man in the company. It was his personal courage on any number of occasions that kept everyone going against some of the heaviest fire I have ever encountered.
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