More than 40 years ago, Michael J. “Doc” Brown braved enemy fire to recover and treat wounded soldiers in kill zones over a two-day period during the Vietnam War.
When he came home in September 1967, there was no ticker tape parade. No pomp. No circumstance.
But on Thursday, Brown, 66, of Fuquay-Varina, was front and center to receive a Bronze Star.
About 25 U.S. Marines and veterans gathered in the training room at the Navy Operational Support Center to watch a humble man receive an honor long overdue.
“It means more than I thought it would,” Brown said. “Because I convinced myself it wasn’t going to happen. The recommendation went in ’66, and it just fell through the cracks. You know it’s out there, you just don’t expect them to remember.”
Brown met up with his former platoon commander at a Silver Star ceremony about three or four years ago. The man, now a retired Major General, remembered the recommendation and pushed to get it approved.
Brown joined the Navy in 1966 and became a hospital corpsman serving with U.S. Marine Company M, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, 3rd Marine Division in Vietnam. He grew up wanting to be a Marine and joked that he wound up on the medical side because during testing he showed he was “too smart.”
In reality, Brown was inspired to be a field medic because of Francis Hammond, the namesake of his high school in Alexandria, Va.
Hammond was a hospital corpsman serving with a U.S. Marine unit who, while wounded, still helped to treat wounded soldiers and guide evacuations in Korea on March 26, 1953.
Hammond was killed by mortar fire a day later.
“You read his history, and you learn all you need to know about why I joined the Navy,” Brown said.
Like his inspiration, Brown, too, withstood enemy fire to treat wounded Marines.
A day of heroism
Over a two-day period beginning Dec. 9, 1966, Brown’s infantry company was fighting in the Quang Tri province near an area known as Razorback.
Throughout the attack, Brown repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire by going into kill zones to give emergency medical treatment and perform evacuations. By mid-morning Dec. 10, the company was at a river crossing and was accidently attacked by 500 pound bombs from friendly aircraft.
Within seconds, 17 were killed and 12 wounded, according to Brown’s commendation letter issued by Ray Mabus, secretary of the Navy. “Brown immediately assessed the situation and provided expert medical care to many with critical or catastrophic wounds. HM3 Brown’s medical expertise was truly tested and he responded with incredible courage and compassion,” the commendation said.
A ‘tremendous’ honor
The Bronze Star is 10th highest award in the U.S. Marine Corps to those who have performed bravely during conflict.
Brown’s medal also has a “V” for valor because he saw extreme combat.
“I think it’s tremendous that he’s been recognized for true heroism,” said Mike Pedneau, a Raleigh veteran who was at Thursday’s ceremony. “He should have been killed given how many times he exposed himself to enemy fire.”
And it’s better late than never.
“It means your country feels strongly enough about what you did that it will track you down and recognize you,” Pedneau said.