Lawrence Joel MOH

b. 22/02/1928 Winston-Salem, North Carolina. d. 04/02/1984 Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

DATE OF MOH ACTION: 08/11/1965 Vietnam.

Lawrence Joel MOH

Joel was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the third of 16 children. Due to the extreme poverty of his family, from the age of 8 to 18, Joel was raised by a neighboring family, the Samuels. Joel attended city public schools, including Atkins High School, and joined the Merchant Marine for one year. In 1946, at age 18, Joel decided to join the United States Army, making a career out of it. He enlisted in New York City.

On November 8, 1965 then-Specialist Five Lawrence Joel and his battalion of paratroopers were sent on a patrol for Viet Cong soldiers near Bien Hoa, War Zone “D” in South Vietnam, conducting Operation Hump. They shortly found themselves in a Viet Cong ambush, outnumbered six to one. Under heavy gunfire, Joel did his duty as a medic, administering first aid to wounded soldiers. Joel defied orders to stay to the ground and risked his life to help the many wounded soldiers; nearly every soldier in the lead squad was either wounded or killed in the battle. Even after being shot twice (once in the right thigh and once in the right calf), Joel continued to do his job; he bandaged his wounds and continued to help the wounded in not only his unit, but in the nearby company as well. When his medical supplies were depleted, he hobbled around the battlefield for more, using a makeshift crutch while SP4 Randy Eickhoff ran ahead of him and provided covering fire. Eickhoff was later awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart for his actions. Joel attended to thirteen troops and saved the life of one soldier who had a severe chest wound by improvising and placing a plastic bag over the soldier’s chest in order to seal the wound until the supplies were refreshed. After the firefight which lasted over twenty-four hours, Joel was hospitalized and shipped to locations including Saigon and Tokyo to recover. Shortly after, he received the Silver Star for his activities.

On March 9, 1967, on the White House lawn, President Lyndon Johnson presented Joel with the Medal of Honor for his service in the Vietnam War. He was the first medic to earn the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War and the first living black American to receive this medal since the Spanish–American War in 1898. On April 8, 1967, Winston-Salem held a parade, the first time the city had ever held a military parade to recognize a single individual, to honor Lawrence Joel. He grew up on the east side of the city, a predominantly African-American section of Winston-Salem at the time. The New York Times called it the biggest tribute the city had ever staged.

Lawrence Joel retired from military service in 1973. On February 4, 1984, Joel died of complications from diabetes. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Section 46, lot 15-1, adjacent to the Memorial Amphitheater.



For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Sp6c. Joel demonstrated indomitable courage, determination, and professional skill when a numerically superior and well-concealed Viet Cong element launched a vicious attack which wounded or killed nearly every man in the lead squad of the company. After treating the men wounded by the initial burst of gunfire, he bravely moved forward to assist others who were wounded while proceeding to their objective. While moving from man to man, he was struck in the right leg by machine-gun fire. Although painfully wounded his desire to aid his fellow soldiers transcended all personal feeling. He bandaged his own wound and self-administered morphine to deaden the pain enabling him to continue his dangerous undertaking. Through this period of time, he constantly shouted words of encouragement to all around him. Then, completely ignoring the warnings of others and his pain, he continued his search for wounded, exposing himself to hostile fire; and, as the bullets dug up the dirt around him, he held plasma bottles high while kneeling completely engrossed in his lifesaving mission. Then, after being struck a second time and with a bullet lodged in his thigh, he dragged himself over the battlefield and succeeded in treating 13 more men before his medical supplies ran out. Displaying resourcefulness, he saved the life of one man by placing a plastic bag over a severe chest wound to congeal the blood. As one of the platoons pursued the Viet Cong, an insurgent force in concealed positions opened fire on the platoon and wounded many more soldiers. With a new stock of medical supplies, Sp6c. Joel again shouted words of encouragement as he crawled through an intense hail of gunfire to the wounded men. After the 24-hour battle subsided and the Viet Cong dead numbered 410, snipers continued to harass the company. Throughout the long battle, Sp6c. Joel never lost sight of his mission as a medical aidman and continued to comfort and treat the wounded until his own evacuation was ordered. His meticulous attention to duty saved a large number of lives and his unselfish, daring example under most adverse conditions was an inspiration to all. Sp6c. Joel’s profound concern for his fellow soldiers, at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, are in the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.