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Saturday, March 31, 2012
TFH 3/31: First Lieutenant Brian Miles Thacker, USA
Artillerymen fill a vital role on the battlefield. Their cannons, howitzers, and rockets project fires both in close-support of front-line combat forces and deep-strikes against an enemy's rear. Artillerymen, however, rarely find themselves engaged directly with the enemy. While their capabilities are essential to victory in war, they are not usually called upon to directly engage the enemy as foot soldiers - unless an enemy manages to infiltrate the rear areas of a fighting unit.
In the history of the Medal of Honor from World War I through the present day, 969 Medals have been awarded to our gallant warriors whose valor truly rose above and beyond the call of duty. Of those 969 awards, just 16 (1.6%) have gone to artillerymen. Today, we recognize one of those sixteen.
Brian Miles Thacker was born on April 25, 1945 in Columbus, Ohio. He graduated from Weber State College in Utah and received his Army officer's commission through ROTC. His first posting was to an artillery unit in Germany, from there he was sent to Vietnam.
On March 31, 1971, First Lieutenant Thacker was manning an observation post in support of the South Vietnamese Army. He was sleeping when the isolated hilltop post came under attack by an overwhelming North Vietnamese assault. When it was clear the position couldn't be held, he ordered the survivors to make their escape - and then stayed behind to cover their withdrawal.
From Medal of Honor Citations for the Vietnam War (M-Z):
THACKER, BRIAN MILES
Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Battery A, 1st Battalion, 92d Artillery. Place and date: Kontum Province, Republic of Vietnam, 31 March 1971. Entered service at: Salt Lake City, Utah. Born: 25 April 1945, Columbus, Ohio. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. 1st Lt. Thacker, Field Artillery, Battery A, distinguished himself while serving as the team leader of an Integrated Observation System collocated with elements of two Army of the Republic of Vietnam units at Fire Base 6. A numerically superior North Vietnamese Army force launched a well-planned, dawn attack on the small, isolated, hilltop fire base. Employing rockets, grenades, flame-throwers, and automatic weapons, the enemy forces penetrated the perimeter defenses and engaged the defenders in hand-to-hand combat. Throughout the morning and early afternoon, 1st Lt. Thacker rallied and encouraged the U.S. and Republic of Vietnam soldiers in heroic efforts to repulse the enemy. He occupied a dangerously exposed observation position for a period of 4 hours while directing friendly air strikes and artillery fire against the assaulting enemy forces. His personal bravery and inspired leadership enabled the outnumbered friendly forces to inflict a maximum of casualties on the attacking enemy forces and prevented the base from being overrun. By late afternoon, the situation had become untenable. 1st Lt. Thacker organized and directed the withdrawal of the remaining friendly forces. With complete disregard for his personal safety, he remained inside the perimeter alone to provide covering fire with his M-16 rifle until all other friendly forces had escaped from the besieged fire base. Then, in an act of supreme courage, he called for friendly artillery fire on his own position to allow his comrades more time to withdraw safely from the area and, at the same time, inflict even greater casualties on the enemy forces. Although wounded and unable to escape from the area himself, he successfully eluded the enemy forces for 8 days until friendly forces regained control of the fire base. The extraordinary courage and selflessness displayed by 1st Lt. Thacker were an inspiration to his comrades and are in the highest traditions of the military service.
Brian Thacker received his Medal of Honor at the White House from President Richard Nixon on October 15, 1973. He is still living, and is currently involved in activism with other living Medal of Honor recipients to encourage present day combat veterans to seek help adjusting back to civilian life and dealing with post-traumatic stress. He currently sits on the Board of Directors of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society as well. Thacker gave an interview presented by the Pritzker Military Library on February 21, 2008. It runs for about 90 minutes, and I encourage you to watch it.
His unit, 1st Battalion/92nd Field Artillery Regiment - "Brave Cannons", fought during the Gulf War in 1991 and was inactivated as part of the post-Cold War draw-down of the United States Army. I also encourage my readers to check out the site produced by Vietnam veterans of 1/92nd Field Artillery at www.bravecannons.org.