A Real American Hero

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Mar 10, 2012

“I want a hero; an uncommon want, when every year and month sends forth a new one.”
Lord Byron

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes.  Over the years I have had many of them.  Some of them have worn the uniform of a sports team.  Others have been political or business leaders that I have observed from a distance.  But I guess the ones who have impacted me the most have been those who have lived nearby. 

My mother was a hero.  Her husband (our father) died and overnight she became a single parent of four children ages 9, 12, 15 (me) and 16.  In addition to everything else, she was responsible for keeping our family farm together.  The years that followed were not easy but through them all she was an amazing person...a real hero.  

The heroes we all salute, however are those who risk their lives for us each day. On May 2, 1968 James E. Livingston demonstrated that he was a real American hero.  As a 28 year old Commanding Officer, Company E, Second Battalion, Fourth Marines, Ninth Marine Amphibious Brigade, Livingston risked his life above and beyond the call of duty against enemy forces in the Republic of Vietnam.

Under his leadership, Company E launched a determined assault on the heavily fortified village of Dai Do which had been seized by the enemy on the preceding evening isolating a Marine company from the remainder of the battalion.  Skillfully employing screening agents, Captain Livingston maneuvered his men to assault positions across 500 meters (1640 feet) of a dangerous open rice paddy while under intense enemy fire.

Ignoring hostile rounds impacting near him, he fearlessly led his men in a savage assault against enemy emplacements in the village.  While adjusting supporting arms fire, Captain Livingston moved to the points of heaviest resistance, shouting words of encouragement to his Marines, directing their fire, and spurring dwindling momentum of the attack on repeated occasions.

Although twice painfully wounded by grenade fragments, he refused medical treatment and courageously led his men in the destruction of over 100 mutually supporting bunkers, driving the enemy from their positions and relieving the pressure on the stranded Marine company.  As the two companies consolidated positions and evacuated casualties, a third company passed through the friendly lines launching an assault on the adjacent village of Dinh To, only to be halted by a furious counterattack of an enemy battalion.

Swiftly assessing the situation and disregarding the heavy volume of enemy fire, Captain Livingston boldly maneuvered the remaining effective men of his company forward, joined forces with the heavily engaged Marines, and halted the enemy’s counterattack.

Wounded a third time and unable to walk, he steadfastly remained in a dangerously exposed area, deploying his men to more tenable positions and supervising the evacuation of casualties.  Only when assured of the safety of his men did he allow himself to be evacuated.

I had the privilege of meeting now retired U.S. Marine Corps Major General James E. Livingston during the unveiling ceremony for the new sign designating the Medal of Honor Grove Highway.  Unanimously passed by both the Pennsylvania House and Senate and signed into law by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a section of Route 23 was renamed the Medal of Honor Grove Highway which honors Livingston along with the other 3,457 Medal of Honor recipients, of whom 83 are living today.

Senator Andy Dinniman said it best, “I wouldn’t think of a better way to honor our veterans who have received our nation’s highest military honor and to remind residents and motorists that the Medal of Honor Grove, a unique and historical memorial site, is located right here in Chester County.”

As Christopher Reeve once said, “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”

To all who have served our country with such distinction, we thank you for being our heroes.

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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