Tuesday, February 21, 2012

TFH 2/21: Sergeant Joe Ronnie Hooper, USA

Joe Ronnie Hooper was born on August 8, 1938 in Piedmont, SC. A high-school dropout, he nonetheless began service to our Nation in 1956 when he enlisted in the United States Navy. After basic training, he served aboard two aircraft carriers, the USS Wasp (CV-18) and USS Hancock (CV-19). His time in the Navy ended in 1959, soon after his promotion to Petty Officer 3rd Class.

Hooper felt our Nation's call again less than a year later, when he joined the United States Army in May, 1960. After Army basic training he volunteered for Airborne School. His first post was with the 82nd Airborne Division, and he also served in both Korea and Panama while attaining the rank of Staff Sergeant. Run-ins with the military justice system saw him reduced in rank to Corporal, but in late 1967 he was promoted again to Sergeant and joined the 101st Airborne Division, with which he made his first tour of duty in Vietnam. He was discharged from the service upon his return from war in June 1968.

During his Vietnam tour on this day in 1968, he cemented his place among our Nation's greatest heroes. For his  leadership and courage while assaulting a heavily defended enemy position, all the while ignoring his own multiple wounds and injuries and putting first the lives of his soldiers, he received our Nation's highest honor.

This is simply an amazing account, worthy of not just admiration but also awe...

From Medal of Honor Citations for the Vietnam War (A-L):


Rank and organization: Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company D, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division. Place and date: Near Hue, Republic of Vietnam, 21 February 1968. Entered service at: Los Angeles, Calif. Born: 8 August 1938, Piedmont, S.C. Citation: 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 single-handedly 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.

Joe Hooper's destiny was with the Army. He reenlisted again about a month after returning from his Vietnam tour and got himself another Vietnam tour with the 101st Airborne Division. In December 1970 he received a commission as a Second Lieutenant. He was ultimately retired from active duty in February 1974, in no small part to his lack of education. He did continue to serve with the Army Reserve, eventually attaining the rank of Captain, but personal troubles lead to his separation from the Army in September 1978.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, Joe Ronnie Hooper was also decorated twice with the Silver Star and eight times with the Bronze Star for gallantry in action. He received eight Purple Hearts for wounds suffered in the defense of liberty.

Captain Joe Ronnie Hooper died of a cerebral hemorrhage on May 6, 1979. He was 40 years old. He rests today with so many of America's honored dead in Arlington National Cemetery. His unit during his Medal of Honor action, 1st Battalion/501st Infantry, serves today with the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) of the 25th Infantry Division, US Army Alaska.

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