Medal of Honor recipient James C. McCloughan of American Legion Edward W. Thompson Post 49 in South Haven, Mich., on Sunday, Aug. 6. Photo by Robert Franklin/The American Legion

Medal of Honor recipient dedicates Vietnam wall at his post

James McCloughan, the most recent Medal of Honor recipient, helped dedicate the 49ers Michigan Veterans Memorial Wall at Post 49 in South Haven, Mich., on Aug. 6.

The wall contains the names of the 2,679 Michigan residents who were killed in Vietnam.

“This is quite a reverent day for all of us, especially for those of you in uniform of if you are a family member of someone who made the ultimate sacrifice,” said McCloughan, as he read the names of South Haven area Vietnam veterans who were killed. “We are in deep sorrow for our brothers.”

While McCloughan is no stranger to public speaking — he coached a Legion Baseball team for 35 summers, plus more than 130 high school sports teams — as a newly minted MoH recipient, he will have more opportunities to engage the public.

“I’d like to give a new image of who the Vietnam veteran is,” said the former combat medic who received the medal for his actions that saved at least 10 men. “I just read a book, 'What It’s Like to go to War.' In that book, it talks about the Vietnam veteran as being the same as his father who was in World War II. They came home. They started a family. They got into a career. They built their house, as their father did. But you know what? People haven’t come to realize that the World War II veteran, like the Vietnam veteran, didn’t talk about the war. But the World War II veterans had a lot of people behind them who did talk about the war for them. The Vietnam veterans had no one except for maybe someone who knew what went on over there to speak for them.”

McCloughan, a 24-year member of Post 49, joins Korean War veteran Duane Dewey as post members who have received the Medal of Honor.

The Post 49 wall was donated by the Vietnam Veterans of America chapter in Holland, Mich. It had been in storage after the VVA group had created a newer one and brought it to Post 49 for an event a year ago.

“I walked in there, saw it and it stopped me dead in my tracks,” post adjutant and Vietnam veteran Tom Breen said. “I had the same exact reaction as the first time I saw the Wall in Washington, D.C. I know the names on that and what they represent.”

Breen led a committee that was charged with installing the wall. Before it could be displayed, there were changes to be made as dozens of names were misspelled, damaged or missing. “I’m not going to say it was a pleasurable thing of what those names represented but it was an honor to put those names on the wall and get it put up here,” Breen said. “I think we accomplished our mission.”

After the ceremony, the 400 or so attendees were broken into smaller groups and escorted into the post’s meeting room to view the memorial wall. Visitors paused in hushed tones at the wall, which was illuminated only by candles. A wreath was placed to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The impact of the project didn’t really hit Breen until he was telling a woman at his local VA about it. “She said, ‘Tom, it’s kind of like you guys — leave no man behind.’ I had never thought of it that way,” he said. “But that’s what I think of. They’re here now, and they are staying. That wall is not going anywhere.”

Department of Michigan Commander Brett Holt was among the dozens of Legion Family members from around the state who attended the ceremony.

“For this post to take the opportunity to commemorate and recognize Vietnam veterans is a fantastic thing,” Holt said. “It falls in line with exactly what The American Legion is all about — taking care of our veterans and remembering their sacrifice and not allowing the public to forget.”

American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt, a fellow Vietnam War veteran, passed along his gratitude in a letter that was read at the ceremony. “I can’t tell you how honored I am to know that another of our nation’s bravest heroes is also a longtime Legionnaire,” Schmidt wrote to McCloughan. “Your heroic service to your country is now permanently etched into history — an inspiration to all Americans.

“Long before President Trump presented you with our nation’s highest medal, you inspired countless young people as an American Legion Baseball coach for 35 years. Those players could not have had a better role model and mentor.

“Thank you for all that you have given to your country, your community and The American Legion.”