McWethy Honored: Freedom Isn’t Free
This week America will celebrate its birthday on Tuesday, July 4. This red, white and blue holiday is considered the height of summertime celebrations marked with family gatherings, barbecues and fireworks. It’s the day the country won its Independence!
But the liberties celebrated on the Fourth of July are fought for on the battle lines, and not everyone returns home from war. For Leadville, one of those heroes was Edgar Lee McWethy Jr. and last month there was a ceremony honoring the 50th Anniversary of his sacrifice at the medical clinic that bears his name in Texas. So as you enjoy your July 4th celebrations and perhaps even drive on the Leadville street that bears his name – McWethy Drive – give thought and honor to one of Leadville’s home town heroes who gave his life so that all Americans could be free.
Publisher’s Note: The following article is re-published here with permission from the US Army. The story recounts the special commemoration ceremony in honor of Edgar McWethy held last month at the Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston in Texas. Thanks for your service and sacrifice!
BAMC honors Medal of Honor Recipient with Run, Ceremony
By Lori Newman, Brooke Army Medical Center
Brooke Army Medical Center’s quarterly cohesion run held a special meaning June 23 as service members and civilians ran to the McWethy Troop Medical Clinic at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston to honor the 50th anniversary of the heroic actions of the clinic’s namesake.
Spc. 5 Edgar Lee McWethy Jr., Company B, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, received the Medal of Honor posthumously for his heroic actions June 21, 1967 during the Vietnam War.
McWethy’s sister, Christy McWethy-Case, and her husband, Jim Case, attended the ceremony featuring one of his platoon members who reminisced about her brother, the hero, who gave his life fighting to help his injured comrades.
“We referred to him as Doc, that’s the only way we ever addressed him,” said John Olcott, describing McWethy as a tall, lanky fellow who was quiet and unassuming.
“He was always pushing his glasses up on his nose,” Olcott said. “He looked more like an out-of-place college professor than he did a medic.”
Olcott said McWethy frequently helped his platoon mates through difficult times and always had a positive attitude.
“We would often talk about what we were going to do when we got out of the service,” Olcott said. “I was going home to my girlfriend, others were going off to college, but Doc was studying the Vietnamese language. He was going to join the Peace Corps and return to Vietnam to work in some orphanage or hospital.
“He was a very kind, loving person,” he said, trying to abate his emotion as he spoke about his friend. “We all had our dreams but unfortunately, some of them never were fulfilled.”
According to the Medal of Honor citation, McWethy accompanied his platoon to the site of a downed helicopter. Shortly after the platoon established a defensive perimeter around the aircraft, a large enemy force attacked their position from three sides with heavy automatic-weapons fire and grenades.
McWethy rushed across the fire-swept area to render aid to his platoon leader, and realized the radio operator was mortally wounded. McWethy’s timely first aid enabled the platoon leader to retain command during this critical period.
Hearing a call for aid, he started across the open toward another injured man. McWethy was wounded in the head and knocked to the ground. He regained his footing and continued on but was hit again in the leg. Struggling onward despite his wounds, he reached his comrades and treated their injuries.
Observing another fallen rifleman lying in an exposed position McWethy moved toward him without hesitation. He was then wounded a third time but reached his fallen companion. Weakened and in pain, McWethy gave the wounded man artificial respiration but suffered a fourth and fatal wound.
“We were all trained to take lives, but not Doc,” Olcott said. “He was trained to heal the sick and take care of the wounded. His mindset was to save lives not to take them. Doc’s overwhelming desire to save lives at all costs fulfilled the unspoken Soldier’s code of honor, laying down one’s life for your fellow brothers in arms.”
The Medal of Honor citation states, “Through his indomitable courage, complete disregard for his safety, and demonstrated concern for his fellow Soldiers, McWethy inspired the members of his platoon and contributed in great measure to their successful defense of the position and the ultimate rout of the enemy force. McWethy’s profound sense of duty, bravery, and his willingness to accept extraordinary risks in order to help the men of his unit are characteristic of the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army.
Olcott asked the Soldiers in attendance to remember McWethy for the man he was. “When you come to this facility I hope that when you walk through the doors you just don’t see a plaque or see a name on the wall, but that you will actually see the man,” he said.
“For those of you coming through those doors seeking medical help, know that you are under the watchful eyes of the best medic the Army ever had,” Olcott said. “I count it a privilege and an honor to have known and served with this true hero who continued to do his job until his last dying breath.”