b. 26/10/1944 Henderson, Kentucky.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 04-08/04/1970 Kontum Province, Vietnam.
Littrell was born October 26, 1944, in Henderson, Kentucky. His mother died when he was 5, and his dad wasn’t around, so he ended up moving in with his grandparents on their farm. When he was 9, Littrell’s uncle drove him about 90 miles to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to watch as soldiers demonstrated parachute jumps. Then and there, the young Kentuckian decided he wanted to be one of them. So, in 1961, one day after his 17th birthday, he joined the Army.
Littrell was deployed in 1962 to Okinawa to join the newly converted 173rd Airborne Brigade. While he was there, he married a local woman named Mitsue. They had two boys.
In 1965, Littrell was reassigned to the 82nd Airborne and sent back to the U.S. two days before the 173rd was ordered to Vietnam. Instead, he deployed with the 82nd to the Dominican Republic before returning home to attend Ranger School, graduating in 1966. Littrell remained an instructor there until 1969, when his orders to Vietnam came through.
About eight months into deployment, then-Sgt. 1st Class Littrell was working as an adviser to the 23rd Vietnamese Ranger Battalion at Dak Seang, a base camp in central Vietnam near the Laotian border.
On April 4, 1970, the unit moved south toward the Cambodian border to search out enemy fighters and call in airstrikes against them. That night, when they reached the top of a hill, they realized they were surrounded by about 5,000 North Vietnamese troops. Littrell’s unit, made up of 473 South Vietnamese and three other American advisers, was vastly outnumbered. As soon as they set up a defensive perimeter, the enemy released a barrage of mortar fire that killed the unit’s South Vietnamese commander and one American adviser. The other two advisers were seriously injured.
Littrell, 25, was the only American left to fight. Thankfully, he’d learned to speak Vietnamese at the Defense Language Institute before deployment, so he was able to communicate with the remaining men.
Over the next four days, Littrell and the 23rd Battalion fought for their lives. According to his Medal of Honor citation, he showed “near superhuman strength” by repeatedly going into the line of fire to direct artillery and call in air support during the day. At night, he did the same to mark the unit’s location. His bravery, leadership and will to keep pushing inspired the men with him to continue to resist. “My primary job was just command and control, trying to get the Vietnamese to stand and fight, but I was on the radio probably more than anything,” Littrell said in a Veterans History Project interview.
The battalion pushed back assault after assault as Littrell continued to move to the most perilous points to redistribute ammunition, strengthen some of the lines that were faltering, care for the wounded and continue encouraging his men to keep fighting. Littrell said the ordeal and lack of sleep was so exhausting that much of what happened to him was hazy for a long time.
“When our missions were declassified, a young historian went to the Pentagon and got the actual operations report and some of the witness statements for my award,” Littrell said. “I started reading them, and it came back: ‘Oh my God, I do remember that happening.’ It was, of course, some interesting reading, but … you get so fatigued that you just, you don’t remember everything that went on. You just remember you had your hands full.”
On their last day stuck on the hill, Littrell’s commander radioed to say troops had cleared a small path for the trapped battalion to try to escape. The journey led them through several ambushes that they managed to stave off with the help of helicopter gunships protecting their flanks. Littrell repeatedly kept order amid the chaos and directed airstrikes on the enemy, some of which came within 50 meters of his own position.
Five treacherous miles later, they made it back to friendly forces. Littrell later learned that, of the 476 men he started the mission with, only 41 came back alive. However, thanks to his courage and leadership, many lives were saved. More than three years later, Littrell was called into the office of the 101st Airborne’s commanding general.
“Back then, I was a little wild and pulled some crazy things every now and then,” Littrell said. “[So] the first thing that went through my mind was, ‘Oh, my God, what the hell did I do now?'”
He’d done nothing wrong. The general wanted to pass on the news that his Medal of Honor nomination had been approved. On October 15, 1973, Littrell received the nation’s highest honour from President Richard M. Nixon during a White House ceremony.
Littrell continued his career in the military until retiring from service in October 1983. He even deployed a second time to Vietnam in 1974. His service there, though, was something he rarely talked about even to his own kids, who went on to serve in the Air Force. Littrell moved to Florida in 1987 and worked for many years counseling veterans at the Department of Veterans Affairs. In 1993, he was inducted into the Army Ranger Hall of Fame.
It took Littrell about two decades to talk more about his experiences, which he has often done with schoolchildren and groups in his community. In the early 2000’s, Littrell and fellow Medal of Honor recipient Robert Howard, a retired colonel who also served in Vietnam, traveled several times to Camp Liberty in Iraq to support deployed soldiers. During that time, Littrell also served as the president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. Littrell and his wife live in St. Pete Beach, Florida. In 2015, a bridge in the city was renamed and dedicated in his honor.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Sfc. Littrell, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, Advisory Team 21, distinguished himself while serving as a Light Weapons Infantry adviser with the 23d Battalion, 2d Ranger Group, Republic of Vietnam Army, near Dak Seang. After establishing a defensive perimeter on a hill on 4 April, the battalion was subjected to an intense enemy mortar attack which killed the Vietnamese commander, one adviser, and seriously wounded all the advisers except Sfc. Littrell. During the ensuing four days, Sfc. Littrell exhibited near superhuman endurance as he singlehandedly bolstered the besieged battalion. Repeatedly abandoning positions of relative safety, he directed artillery and air support by day and marked the unit’s location by night, despite the heavy, concentrated enemy fire. His dauntless will instilled in the men of the 23d Battalion a deep desire to resist. Assault after assault was repulsed as the battalion responded to the extraordinary leadership and personal example exhibited by Sfc. Littrell as he continuously moved to those points most seriously threatened by the enemy, redistributed ammunition, strengthened faltering defenses, cared for the wounded, and shouted encouragement to the Vietnamese in their own language. When the beleaguered battalion was finally ordered to withdraw, numerous ambushes were encountered. Sfc. Littrell repeatedly prevented widespread disorder by directing air strikes to within 50 meters of their position. Through his indomitable courage and complete disregard for his safety, he averted excessive loss of life and injury to the members of the battalion. The sustained extraordinary courage and selflessness displayed by Sfc. Littrell over an extended period of time were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on him and the U.S. Army.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: WITH RECIPIENT.