Robert Milton “Bob” McGovern MOH

b. 24/01/1928 Washington DC. d. 30/01/1951 near Kamyangjan-Ni, Korea.

DATE OF MOH ACTION: 30/01/1951 near Kamyangjan-Ni, Korea.

Robert M McGovern MOH

Robert Milton McGovern looked every bit the part of an “All-American” young man. Born in Washington, D.C. in 1928, he grew up in our Nation’s Capitol in a close family with a modest but happy home in the Petworth neighborhood. In time, the family of Mr. and Mrs. Halsey McGovern would grow to six, four boys and two girls. John was the oldest, three years Robert’s senior. He was a World War II veteran who had served with the Army Air Force as a flight engineer on a B-24 bomber in the Pacific, while at home, his younger brothers and sisters feared for his safety and prayed for his return. Sister Margaret Jane was a year older than Robert, and Jerome was little more than a year younger. Brother Charles and sister Elizabeth completed the large and loving family.

The McGovern family insisted on a solid education for their children and believed that such an education could be found at nearby St. John’s College High School. Among the outstanding programs at the school was their Cadet Corps. The Drill Team was a tremendous source of pride for the school, marching in many Capitol activities including the 1917 Inaugural parade for President Woodrow Wilson. The oldest McGovern son graduated from St. John’s in the spring of 1942. That same fall Robert entered the school. Two years later Jerome followed in their footsteps. Both Robert and Jerome became part of the Cadet Corps, not only marching and drilling with pride but also showing an almost innate leadership quality. The two young men were brothers, they were also friends.

When Robert McGovern graduated from St. John’s in 1946, he enlisted in the Army. After basic training, the young Army private attended Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. Before his 20th birthday he was commissioned¬†as a second lieutenant and by 1949 he found himself stationed at Camp Crawford in Japan.

Robert McGovern was a good soldier, a fine officer, and an American patriot. These were character traits he had learned in his family and seen reinforced at St. John’s. Robert McGovern also had a deep Spiritual side. The Christian Brothers at St. John’s instilled in all their students, a compassion for the needs of others and a responsibility to be their “brother’s keeper”. These lessons followed Lieutenant McGovern to Japan, a country still reeling from the after-effects of World War II. Robert’s heart broke for the orphans around him, the innocent children who needed so much and had so little. He began volunteering his spare time to help at a local Franciscan orphanage in Sappora, but he could see his efforts alone would not be enough. Finally, he wrote home: “Since the occupation began these nuns have fallen heir to the babies of the Army. In touring the buildings I grew disgusted with the lack of help these people are receiving from Catholics Stateside. Thirty-eight babies are crowded into a 20 by 50-foot room, and one out of three dies from advanced malnutrition and high susceptibility to disease.”

Robert’s younger brother, Jerome, graduated from St. John’s in the Spring of 1948. Like the elder, he joined the army, enrolled in Officer’s Candidate School, and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant at Fort Riley, Kansas while his brother was serving in Japan. Airborne training followed, then in the Summer of 1950, Jerome was sent to Japan to join his brother as a member of the 187th Airborne Regiment. It was an unexpected reunion, the first time to two brothers had been together since Robert had entered the service. The tranquility of their time together didn’t last long. On the early morning of June 25, 1950, nearly 100,000 members of the North Korean People’s Army swarmed across the 38th parallel in an effort to crush the democratic Republic of South Korea.

In October the brothers parachuted with their regiment into the Kimpoo Airfield in North Korea. Their baptism of fire was almost immediate. A shortage of officers made the chances of serving close to each other impossible. First Lieutenant Robert McGovern was assigned to the 5th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Air Cavalry Division. Second Lieutenant Jerome McGovern was assigned to the 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. Within months each would prove his leadership skills, demonstrate his courage, and come to exemplify all things good they had learned at home and at St. Johns.

A month later, on January 30, 1951, Lieutenant Robert McGovern deployed his platoon in a skirmish line at the base of a hill near Kamyangnan-ni. All seemed peaceful enough, but he cautiously urged his men upward. The tired soldiers slipped and slid on the snow-covered rocks, their breath coming in ragged gasps from the exertion. When they were within 75 yards of the summit they began to relax slightly. The hard climb was almost finished. Suddenly, from the top of the hill, a machine-gun began raining death upon the weary soldiers. From more than a dozen fox holes, Communist soldiers popped up with weapons blazing. A bullet ripped into Lieutenant McGovern’s side. Quickly he fell behind a rock for cover and attempted to bandage the wound. The platoon sergeant crept to the wounded officer’s position, checked him over and suggested he head downhill to receive treatment. But Lieutenant McGovern would not leave his men to face the enemy alone. Struggling against the pain, he assured his sergeant he would be okay. “Get the men ready,” he ordered. “Next time there’s a break in the fire, we’re going up.”

Slowly the enemy fire did begin to subside, and during the lull the brave lieutenant began to dodge from rock to rock, advancing on the enemy. Behind him his men watched in stunned amazement, slowly following and laying down covering fire. As the platoon neared the enemy, grenades began to rain down upon them. Quickly McGovern began to scoop them up before they could explode and toss them back at the enemy. Meanwhile, the enemy machine-gun added momentum to the death reaching out for Lieutenant McGovern’s beleaguered platoon. Weak from loss of blood, the young hero stood to his feet and boldly charged the enemy position. When he was within ten yards a burst of fire tore his carbine from his grasp. Still, he continued on, firing at the enemy with his pistol and throwing grenades. He killed seven of the enemy to silence the machine-gun, but it was not enough. Behind him, his own soldiers watched in horror as the enemy numbers finally became too much. They cried out in agony as they watched the bullets slam their leader to the ground and riddle his body. Then they cried out in anger. The amazing courage of the lone lieutenant in his one-man assault provided their inspiration, his death their motivation. Determined to avenge his loss they fixed bayonets and charged the enemy, throwing grenades and attacking with such ferocity that the enemy position was over-ran and Lieutenant McGovern’s men achieved their objective.

Tragically, just 11 days after Robert’s death, his brother Jerome was also killed in action. They would be both be returned to the US and they were buried side by side in Arlington National Cemetery. The following year the Army announced the award of the Medal of Honor to First Lieutenant Robert McGovern, and the award of the Silver Star to Second Lieutenant Jerome McGovern. For his own deeply personal reason, Halsey McGovern declined to accept. Today those medals, along with the accompanying citations and photos of the brothers, are on display at St. John’s College High School in Washington, D.C.

 

MOH CITATION:

1st Lt. McGovern, a member of Company A, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in action against an armed enemy of the United Nations. As 1st Lt. McGovern led his platoon up a slope to engage hostile troops emplaced in bunker-type pillbox with connecting trenches, the unit came under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire from the crest of the hill, approximately 75 yards distant. Despite a wound sustained in this initial burst of withering fire, 1st Lt. McGovern, assured the men of his ability to continue on and urged them forward. Forging up the rocky incline, he fearlessly led the platoon to within several yards of its objective when the ruthless foe threw and rolled a vicious barrage of hand grenades on the group and halted the advance. Enemy fire increased in volume and intensity, and 1st Lt. McGovern, realizing that casualties were rapidly increasing and the morale of his men badly shaken, hurled back several grenades before they exploded. Then, disregarding his painful wound and weakened condition, he charged a machine-gun emplacement which was raking his position with flanking fire. When he was within 10 yards of the position a burst of fire ripped the carbine from his hands, but, undaunted, he continued his one-man assault and, firing his pistol and throwing grenades, killed seven hostile soldiers before falling mortally wounded in front of the gun he had silenced. 1st Lt. McGovern’s incredible display of valor imbued his men with indomitable resolution to avenge his death. Fixing bayonets and throwing grenades, they charged with such ferocity that hostile positions were overrun and the enemy routed from the hill. The inspirational leadership, unflinching courage, and intrepid actions of 1st Lt. McGovern reflected utmost glory on himself and the honored tradition of the military services.

 

BURIAL LOCATION: ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA.

SECTION 3, GRAVE 1312-BC.

LOCATION OF MEDAL: ST JOHN’S COLLEGE HIGH SCHOOL, WASHINGTON DC.