Vietnam Veteran Receives 'Long-Overdue' Bronze Star
by U.S. Army Terrance Bell, Garrison Fort Lee Public Affairs
April 4, 2021
A Vietnam War veteran credited with saving the lives of two Soldiers finally received the accolade he was due during a presentation in the Army Transportation Museum on March 4, 2021.
Brig. Gen. James M. Smith, Army Chief of Transportation, pinned a Bronze Star with “V” device on the lapel of former Specialist Ronald Mallory who heroically drove a truck with wounded comrades through a deadly ambush to safety during the Vietnam War.
March 4, 2021 - Brig. Gen. James Smith, Chief of Transportation, congratulates former Army Spc. Ronald Mallory after presenting him with the Bronze Star Medal with "V" device following a ceremony March 4 at the Army Transportation Museum. (U.S. Army photo by Terrance Bell, Garrison Fort Lee Public Affairs)
Several members of Mallory’s immediate family were part of the small, socially distanced audience. Veterans of his old unit also were present. The event was livestreamed on the Army Transportation Facebook page.
In pre-presentation remarks, Smith said the medal ceremony is what he considers “long, overdue recognition” of Mallory’s actions on Feb. 23, 1971. Given the degree of danger present when it happened, he said the event “can be succinctly captured with words such as bravery, courageous, heroic, selfless service, duty, honor or country.”
Mallory, a native of Louisa, joined the Army in January 1970 as a light vehicle driver. A little more than a year later, the 20-year-old volunteered to drive a Brutus gun truck – knowing that its previous operator had been killed – and he was sent on a mission to protect one of two 30-truck convoys making their way to Pleiku.
As the first convoy headed up the An Khe pass, the enemy launched a major assault, according to the ceremony program. The second convoy gun trucks assigned to the 359th Trans. Company – including the Mallory-driven Brutus – joined the battle. When the fighting died down 15 minutes later, a cease fire was called and the Brutus was released back to the second convoy.
In the process of turning the vehicle around, the vehicle was assaulted by three-to-five enemy Soldiers. After a grenade landed in the gun box, someone yelled “Frag!” as a warning to the others. A crewmember immediately dropped to his knees, covering the grenade with his body. The explosion killed him and wounded the remaining crew. Mallory, hit from the grenade fragments, drove through the gunfire and a burning disabled tanker that lay in the path to medical support and safety.
Smith said Mallory’s “volunteerism, sense of teamwork and willingness to accomplish the mission are the exact reasons he ended up driving Brutus, fully aware previous crewmembers did not make it. Those traits, combined with his bravery, sense of duty and his selfless service, are the embodiment of who he still is today.
“Mr. Mallory,” continued Smith, “you are – and I quote – living history. For many of us still serving, and those of us who will serve in the future, and as the proud son of a Vietnam veteran, and on behalf of the entire Transportation Corps and the United States Army, I want to publicly thank you for your service to our nation.”
Although Mallory’s actions were acknowledged 50 years ago, formal recognition in the form of a medal for bravery ran into snags and bureaucracy. It wasn’t until 2012, following a 359th Trans. Co. reunion, that members of the unit including Fred Carter, who served with Mallory in Vietnam, and Jim Donaldson, who later served in the same unit, once again pursued an award. Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine eventually got involved and helped to seal the effort.
Mallory, retired now after a career as a truck driver and custodian, thanked all who fought for his recognition and those who supported him, to include his family. After the ceremony, he seemed relieved, saying the incident has impacted his life since the day it happened.
“If you were there, you live it every day of your life,” said Mallory, acknowledging the years-long psychological torment he experienced. “You never forget it. It stays with you. You sleep with it. You wake up with it. It’s there all the time and does not go away.”
Carter, who was Mallory’s noncommissioned officer in charge, said it is difficult finding words to describe what occurred 50 years ago.
“You have to understand that grenade set off a 50 caliber crate of ammunition in the armored gun box, and the shrapnel from the grenade and these bullets rattling around in that steel box was working hard on the individuals who were left alive. If it hadn’t of been for Ron making that decision and doing what he did, like I say, the other two individuals would’ve bled out and died on the spot.”
Spc. Larry Dahl, a close friend of Carter, was the Soldier who shielded the crew from the grenade blast. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his courageous deed. Spc. Charles L. Huser survived the battle. Staff Sgt. Hector J. Diaz died later from his wounds.
Mallory acknowledged the sacrifices of Dahl during the ceremony. He also thanked Earline, his wife of 33 years, for helping him talk about the trauma he experienced during the war.
“She was the one who inspired me. … She made my feelings come out; she helped me through a lot,” said the goateed grandfather after the ceremony.
Earline, who also spoke at the gathering, expressed elation that her husband finally got his due. “It’s such a blessing,” she said, “I don’t know who’s happier, him or I. I just thank God this day came for him.”
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