On June 11, 1969, a Marine battalion dug in near An Hoa, Vietnam, was being overrun by enemy soldiers backed by a heavy barrage of rocket, mortar and automatic weapons fire. But fire team leader Samuel Felton Jr., of Lorain, had his eyes on a distant listening post where he'd previously sent three Marines to warn of the attack. All three had been wounded and were unable to make it back to the defensive perimeter. Pfc. Felton was told not to attempt a rescue. At that point in the battle, it was every man for himself in the pre-dawn melee. "I said OK, and the next thing they knew, there I go after them," Felton, 67, recently recalled. "These young guys, I know they're out there, scared, and I'm the one who sent them out there," he added. "And I felt I was either going to bring them back or die trying."
Felton slogged through an open expanse of knee-deep mud and water, under fire, to reach the listening post where he administered first aid. One of the wounded couldn't walk, so Felton slung the wounded Marine over his shoulder as he directed the two others back to their lines. "I'll never forget it," Felton said. "All of a sudden I see these Viet Cong soldiers in front of me, and they started shooting, and as I turned to let (the wounded man) down, I got shot in the shoulder. "And I turned around and killed both of them." Felton delivered the men to the battalion aid station, but the one he carried later died of his wounds.
His commander wrote out a citation on the spot, on the back of a C-ration box, and Felton was subsequently awarded the Navy Cross - second only to the Medal of Honor for heroism in combat, and one of only 491 awarded during the war in Vietnam. That experience, and others during his three tours in Vietnam from 1968-1971, would ultimately lead to a commitment to caring for his fellow veterans. Yet it was about as far as Felton could get from the vow he made after graduating from Lorain High School, that he'd never, ever be part of that war. After high school, he went to work for a steel mill in Lorain, and now looks back on his life in those days as "a troubled kid . . . getting in trouble. I guess that was the best thing for me, to go into the service or wind up in jail."
Why the Marines? The son of a World War II Army veteran grinned and immediately answered, "I wanted to be the toughest, and they taught me a few lessons about that, too." Felton said the training proved to be a life-saver in Vietnam during the continuous search and destroy missions of the First Marine Division.
With time and experience, Felton said he became hardened, but never accustomed to combat. "You react to it, but it's never something you get used to, because it's not like there's any rhyme or reason behind it or any certain order," he said.
"You could be sitting there, talking, and all of a sudden bombs start going off and people start dying around you," he added.
He got the nickname "Frag," for always packing as many fragmentation grenades as he could carry in the field. Felton explained that he'd once run out of rifle ammo during a firefight, and relied on a sack of those grenades to get him through. Heroism was not uncommon in his unit. A fellow Marine, Pfc. Jimmy Phipps, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for throwing himself on an explosive device, saving the lives of another Marine and his platoon commander. But there were also sights that Felton said he'll never forget. "The first time I saw mangled bodies and stuff like that, I just stood there. I'm just transfixed, 'cause I'm looking at Viet Cong with their heads blown off," he said. "It was just like you take a doll and throw it down and crack it. But these weren't dolls. These were people." Felton said his former jovial, joking self slowly disappeared and he became "the ultimate introvert." Yet he stuck it out for three tours, volunteering for the duty in the belief that it would help keep his younger brother, Carnell, who'd also joined the Marines, from being sent to a combat zone.
Today, Felton is commander of the Disabled American Veterans Louis Paul Proy Chapter 20 in Lorain, whose members often serve in an honor guard for veterans' funerals and other projects aiding area vets. He is past commander of the local chapter of the National Association for Black Veterans, and was named Veteran of the Year by the Lorain County Veterans Council in 2010. For the past three years, Felton has organized a pool tournament to raise funds for veterans and military service organizations. He is also president of the advisory board for Valor Home, a transitional housing facility for homeless veterans in Lorain. "What Valor Home does is provide a safe haven for those who have kind of lost themselves, because I've been there myself. Not necessary homeless, but to the point where I lost myself, psychologically, with drinking and everything," he said. Looking back on Vietnam, Felton said, "I don't think I would trade anything except the one thing - the dying."
There were personal gains from that experience, beyond the Navy Cross. For one, "I learned how to be a man," Felton said. Secondly, "not to run away from a situation, but confront it and find a solution to it," he added. And the third and most important lesson was recognizing that "everyone has a value, everyone has a purpose, you just have to find it," Felton related.
In his case, "I think my purpose in life would be to ensure that my fellow veterans are given a fair deal, and always acknowledged for the service and sacrifices they've made," he continued. "They say freedom isn't free. How well I know it isn't."
FELTON, SAMUEL L., JR.
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Samuel L. Felton, Jr. (2479014), Private First Class, U.S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while serving as a Fire Team Leader with Company C, First Battalion, Fifth Marines, FIRST Marine Division (Reinforced), Fleet Marine Force, in connection with combat operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam. Early on the morning of 11 June 1969 , Company C was established in a battalion night defensive perimeter two miles west of An Hoa Combat Base when its sector came under a heavy volume of rocket, mortar, recoilless rifle, and automatic-weapons fire followed by a determined assault by an estimated 100 North Vietnamese Army soldiers. When communications with a three-man listening post seventy-five meters forward of the perimeter were lost, Private First Class Felton established voice contact and learned that all three Marines were wounded and unable to return to the perimeter unassisted. With resolute determination, he left his fighting hole and although wounded by enemy fire, continued across the open terrain until he reached the beleaguered Marines. After administering first aid and ensuring that no equipment or ordnance was left behind, he provided covering fire as he directed the two least seriously wounded men across the hazardous area to the company lines. Despite his weakened condition from loss of blood, Private First Class Felton began to carry the most seriously injured Marine through the knee-deep mud and water of the rice paddy. Suddenly two hostile soldiers jumped in front of him, blocking his chance to return to friendly lines. Reacting instantly, he fired his M-16 rifle with one hand while supporting the wounded Marine with his injured arm, killing both of the enemy, and fearlessly continued his Herculean efforts until he delivered his wounded comrade to the battalion aid station. He then returned to the perimeter and continued fighting the attacking force until the enemy was repulsed. His heroic actions and bold fighting spirit inspired all who observed him and were instrumental in saving the lives of several fellow Marines. By his courage, daring initiative, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of great personal danger, Private First Class Felton upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
Authority: Navy Department Board of Decorations and Medals
Home Town : Lorain, Ohio
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Samuel Felton Jr. served three tours as a Marine in Vietnam and was awarded the Navy Cross for heroism in combat in 1969.
Valor Home Chairman Samuel Felton Jr. explains importance of Valor Home
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