b. 04/12/1941 Janesville, Wisconsin. d. 20/05/1967 Kontum, Vietnam.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 20/05/1967 Kontum, Vietnam.
Bellrichard was born in Janesville, Wisconsin, on December 4, 1941 — three days before America was thrust into World War II — and his life was a struggle almost from the start. His father died in a truck-train collision when he was only 11 months old. A year later, a similar collision killed one of his brothers and severely injured another brother. Their mother, who had been driving them that day, fell into a depression afterward, and eventually county officials took the children away from her.
Bellrichard and one of his brothers bounced around the foster system for years after that. They eventually landed in a good home, but it didn’t last. According to the book “Nine Days in May,” by Warren Wilkins, Bellrichard had a breakdown when he was about 12, so he was moved to a children’s home, where he remained until he dropped out of high school and moved to California to be closer to his birth mother, who had relocated there.
Newspaper clippings show that Bellrichard got his GED, taught Sunday school and worked for Lockheed Aviation in San Jose for five years before being drafted into the Army in 1966. He volunteered to go to Vietnam and was sent over to serve with the 8th Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion.
The 25-year-old had been in Vietnam for less than a month when he gave his life to save his fellow soldiers. On May 20, 1967, he and four other men were in a foxhole on their unit’s perimeter when enemy combatants started firing mortars at them. After about 30 minutes, Vietcong troops came at them on the ground. Bellrichard stood up from the foxhole and threw grenades into a mass of enemy soldiers charging them. The explosions took out several of the enemy and forced the rest to retreat.
It didn’t take long for them to regroup, though, and fire more rockets and mortars before again charging the American soldiers. Bellrichard went back to throwing hand grenades, but just as he was about to heave one that was armed, a mortar landed right in front of him and knocked him backward into the foxhole. Bellrichard lost his grip, and the live grenade fell out of his hands. Without thinking, Bellrichard threw himself on top of the grenade to protect his fellow comrades in the ditch. It went off. Amazingly, Bellrichard didn’t die right away. He was seriously injured, but he still managed to sit up and fire his rifle toward the enemy until the wounds became too much. He died a few minutes later.
His posthumous Medal of Honor was presented to his widow, Shirley Jean Bellrichard (nee France), aged just 22, on 10 July 1969 by President Richard M. Nixon at The White House. In 2004, the city of Janesville, renamed a bridge over the Rock River, Bellrichard Bridge.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Acting as a fire team leader with Company C, during combat operations Pfc. Bellrichard was with 4 fellow soldiers in a foxhole on their unit’s perimeter when the position came under a massive enemy attack. Following a 30-minute mortar barrage, the enemy launched a strong ground assault. Pfc. Bellrichard rose in face of a group of charging enemy soldiers and threw hand grenades into their midst, eliminating several of the foe and forcing the remainder to withdraw. Failing in their initial attack, the enemy repeated the mortar and rocket bombardment of the friendly perimeter, then once again charged against the defenders in a concerted effort to overrun the position. Pfc. Bellrichard resumed throwing hand grenades at the onrushing attackers. As he was about to hurl a grenade, a mortar round exploded just in front of his position, knocking him into the foxhole and causing him to lose his grip on the already armed grenade. Recovering instantly, Pfc. Bellrichard recognized the threat to the lives of his 4 comrades and threw himself upon the grenade, shielding his companions from the blast that followed. Although severely wounded, Pfc. Bellrichard struggled into an upright position in the foxhole and fired his rifle at the enemy until he succumbed to his wounds. His selfless heroism contributed greatly to the successful defense of the position, and he was directly responsible for saving the lives of several of his comrades.
BURIAL LOCATION: OAK HILL CEMETERY, JANESVILLE, WISCONSIN.
BLOCK 311, LOT 15, GRAVE 7
LOCATION OF MEDAL: FAMILY.