Wednesday, October 17, 2012

TFH 10/17: 2LT Harold Bascom Durham, Jr., USA

Harold Bascom Durham, Jr. was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina on October 12, 1942. He was living in Atlanta, Georgia when he joined the United States Army in 1964, and was eventually commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Artillery branch.

Lieutenant Durham was assigned to the 6th Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment, then one of the artillery components of the 1st Infantry Division engaged in combat in Vietnam. Five days after his 25th birthday on October 17, 1967, he was attached to the 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment as a forward observer for what became the Battle of Ong Thanh.

As the infantry ran up against and was ambushed by a heavily fortified enemy position and superior numbers in opposition, Durham placed himself in a leading position exposed to the enemy so as best to direct vital artillery fires onto the enemy positions. Even though he was wounded multiple times, his concern was solely for the soldiers surrounding him. He died with the radio still in his hand, calling in fires until his last breath, and was posthumously awarded our Nation's highest honor.

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


Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Battery C, 6th Battalion, 15th Artillery, 1st Infantry Division . Place and date: Republic of Vietnam, 17 October 1967. Entered service at: Atlanta, Ga. Born: 12 October 1942, Rocky Mount, N.C. Citation: 2d Lt. Durham, Artillery, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the cost of his life above and beyond the call of duty while assigned to Battery C. 2d Lt. Durham was serving as a forward observer with Company D, 2d Battalion, 28th Infantry during a battalion reconnaissance-in-force mission. At approximately 1015 hours contact was made with an enemy force concealed in well-camouflaged positions and fortified bunkers. 2d Lt. Durham immediately moved into an exposed position to adjust the supporting artillery fire onto the insurgents. During a brief lull in the battle he administered emergency first aid to the wounded in spite of heavy enemy sniper fire directed toward him. Moments later, as enemy units assaulted friendly positions, he learned that Company A, bearing the brunt of the attack, had lost its forward observer. While he was moving to replace the wounded observer, the enemy detonated a Claymore mine, severely wounding him in the head and impairing his vision. In spite of the intense pain, he continued to direct the supporting artillery fire and to employ his individual weapon in support of the hard pressed infantrymen. As the enemy pressed their attack, 2d Lt. Durham called for supporting fire to be placed almost directly on his position. Twice the insurgents were driven back, leaving many dead and wounded behind. 2d Lt. Durham was then taken to a secondary defensive position. Even in his extremely weakened condition, he continued to call artillery fire onto the enemy. He refused to seek cover and instead positioned himself in a small clearing which offered a better vantage point from which to adjust the fire. Suddenly, he was severely wounded a second time by enemy machine gun fire. As he lay on the ground near death, he saw two Viet Cong approaching, shooting the defenseless wounded men. With his last effort, 2d Lt. Durham shouted a warning to a nearby soldier who immediately killed the insurgents. 2d Lt. Durham died moments later, still grasping the radio handset. 2d Lt. Durham's gallant actions in close combat with an enemy force are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.

Ong Thanh was a defeat for our Army. The survivors of 2-28 Infantry owe their lives largely to the indomitable courage of the young North Carolinian gunner. Two others received the Distinguished Service Cross for the action, and 13 the Silver Star.

Lieutenant Durham's name is inscribed on Panel 28E, Line 20 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. He rests in peace at the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Tifton, Georgia.

6th Battalion, 15th Field Artillery is currently inactive. 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment is today part of the 172nd Infantry Brigade, is normally forward-deployed in Germany. The brigade, and 2-28 Infantry, is currently fighting in Afghanistan. Today's 1st Infantry Division is home stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas.

[NOTE: this post was updated at 12:40 PM EDT on 10/17/2012 to reflect additional information I received from a Twitter follower, @ericvscott5. Coincidentally, his father fought at Ong Thanh that day. Naturally, we thank them both (as my follower is a Senior Master Sergeant in the Air Force) for their service to our Nation and the cause of liberty.]

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