Famous People

Today's Famous Person (June 29, 1939 October 28, 2008) was a decorated United States Marine Corps Colonel who received the Navy Cross for his actions in combat during the Vietnam War. On Easter morning 1972, he repeatedly exposed himself to intense enemy fire over a three-hour period as he prepared to blow up an essential bridge in Dong Ha. His actions significantly hampered the North Vietnamese Army's advance into South Vietnam. His story is legendary in the Marine Corps and is captured in a gripping diorama at the United States Naval Academy.

He was born on June 29, 1939, in Radford, Virginia and his family lived there until he was five years old. They then moved to Portsmouth, Ohio, where they remained for some years before finally settling in Radford, Virginia. After graduating from Radford High School, he enlisted into the Marine Corps in 1957 at 17 years of age. A year later, he was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy by the Secretary of the Navy. He graduated in 1962 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, and received his commission as a second lieutenant. After completing The Basic School, he joined the Marine detachment on the USS Independence (CV-62). After his sea duty, he joined 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines. In May 1965, he was transferred to 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company, and after training, he deployed to Vietnam with his platoon.

In October 1966, he joined 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines in South Vietnam. He served as company commander of Lima Company, known as [deleted]'s Raiders, was wounded in action, then returned to active duty and completed his combat tour. In October 1969, he was selected to serve as exchange officer with the British Royal Marines and Special Boat Service.

During his two years of Vietnam service, he participated in 26 major operations. In addition to numerous decorations for extensive combat experience at the rifle company and battalion levels, he was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism in destroying the Dong Ha bridge during the April 1972 North Vietnamese Easter Offensive.

While under intense unrelenting enemy fire, he dangled for an estimated three hours under the bridge in order to attach 500 pounds of explosives to the span, ultimately obliterating it. His action, conducted under enemy fire while going back and forth for materials, definitively thwarted an onslaught by 20,000 enemy troops and dozens of tanks and was the subject of a book, The Bridge at Dong Ha, by Colonel John Grider Miller. He attributes his success to the help of God and his mother. When his energy was about to give out he began a rhythmic chant, "Jesus, Mary, Get me there". His body taxed to its extreme limits, his action is considered one of the greatest examples of concentration under fire in the annals of U.S. military history.

He retired from the Marine Corps in 1992 after 35 years of active duty service. He received more than five awards for his acts of bravery in Vietnam.

After his retirement from active duty in 1992, he became president and chancellor of Southern Seminary College for Women (now Southern Virginia University) in Buena Vista, Virginia. In 1997, he stepped down as the head of Southern Seminary and headed to Chatham, Virginia where he took charge of Hargrave Military Academy as the private military boarding school's eighth president, remaining in command for two years. He was selected in 1999 by the Commandant of the Marine Corps as the director of the History and Museums Division.

In June 1992 he testified against women in the military before a presidential commission. He based his arguments on a defense of "femininity, motherhood, and what we have come to appreciate in Western culture as the graceful conduct of women." In the following year he spoke against homosexuals in the military during the House Armed Services Committee hearings that preceded the implementation of President Clinton's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.

As a result of combat action, he contracted a disease that in the summer of 2002 required a liver transplant. Nearing death, with little time left and already having received Last Rites twice, a replacement liver was located. The Commandant of the Marine Corps, who called him a living symbol of pride, sent a section of CH-46s helicopters from the Marine One presidential squadron to Philadelphia to retrieve the liver. After further coordination with the Washington D.C. Police to obtain a landing zone in the city, the liver was delivered in time for a successful transplant.

In October 2006, he returned to the site of the Dong Ha Bridge to film a documentary of his action. The documentary was hosted by Oliver North, and was shown on November 12, 2006, on Fox News.

Today's Famous Person died suddenly on October 28, 2008, at his home in Annapolis, Maryland of undetermined causes at age 69.


Who is today's Famous Person?


Harvey C. Barnum, Jr.
James A. Graham
Howard V. Lee
John Ripley





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Neil in Pennsylvania
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