SSgt Joe Ronnie Hooper: MOH Recipient

 In History

SSgt Joe Ronnie Hooper (1938-1979) amassed a huge number of awards during the Vietnam War: 2 Silver Stars, 8 Purple Hearts, 6 Bronze stars with V devices, and a Medal of Honor. Over his military career he racked up 115 confirmed kills (Military Times). But he also racked up a lot of Article 15s (nonjudicial punishment). (Popular Military).

SSgt Hooper enlisted in the Navy in 1956 and served for 3 years. He left the Navy as a Petty Officer 3rd Class in 1959. Though he tried to go back to work in a factory, he was reportedly bored and needed excitement. So he went back to enlist in the Navy again…but the recruiter wasn’t there.

The Army recruiter was in. So he joined that Army as a Private First Class. He rose in rank to Staff Sergeant and asked for deployment to Vietnam. They gave him Panama instead. But Panama was still too boring, so he kept getting into trouble and got busted to Corporal.

Once he got his Sgt rank back, the Army finally deployed him to Vietnam – he deployed there twice. In February of 1968 during his second tour, he was a squad leader with Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 101st Airborne Division. They were given the task of assaulting a heavily defended Viet Cong position on the bank of a stream.  What happened during that battle should have been a movie, but because it was the Vietnam War, it quickly faded into history.

His MOH Citation reads

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his own life above and beyond the call of duty. He distinguished himself while serving as a squad leader with Company D. The company was assaulting a heavily defended position along a river bank when it encountered withering fire from rockets, machineguns and automatic weapons.

He rallied several men and stormed across the river, overrunning several bunkers on the opposite shore. Thus inspired, the rest of the company moved on the attack.  With utter disregard for his own safety, he moved our under intense fire again and pulled back the wounded, refused medical aid and returned to his men. With the relentless enemy fire disrupting the attack, he single-handedly stormed three enemy bunkers, destroying them with hand grenades and rifle fire, and shot two enemy soldiers who had attacked and wounded the Chaplain. Leading his men forward in a sweep of the area, he destroyed three buildings housing enemy riflemen. At this point he was attacked by a North Vietnamese officer whom he fatally wounded with his bayonet.

Finding his men under heavy fire from a house to the front, he proceeded alone to the building, killing its occupants with rifle fire and grenades. By now his initial body wound had been compounded by grenade fragments, despite multiple wounds and the loss of blood, he continued to lead his men against the intense enemy resistance.

As his squad reached the final lines of the enemy, it received devastating fire from four bunkers in line on their left flank. He gathered several hand grenades and raced down a small trench which ran the length of the bunker line, tossing grenades into each bunker as he passed by, killing all but two of the occupants. With these positions destroyed, he concentrated on the last bunkers facing his men, destroying the first with an incendiary grenade and neutralizing two more by rifle fire.

He then raced across an open field, still under enemy fire, to rescue a wounded man who was trapped in a trench. Upon reaching the man, he was faced by an armed enemy soldier whom he killed with his pistol. Moving his comrade to safety, he returned to his men, neutralized the final pocket of enemy resistance bu fatally wounding three North Vietnamese officers with rifle fire.

He then established a final line and reorganized his men, not accepting medical treatment until this was accomplished and not consenting to evacuation until the following morning. His supreme valor, inspiring leadership and heroic self-sacrifice were directly responsible for the company’s success are provided a lasting example in personal courage for every man on the field. His actions were in keeping with the highest tradition of military service and reflect great honor upon himself and the United States Army.”

SSgt Joe Ronnie Hooper citation

He was discharged from the Army in 1978 as a Captain. He partied hard, drank hard, and was in trouble too much. But he was a hero who saved lives at the risk of his own. He died in 1979 of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 40.

Joe Ronnie Hooper was the most decorated soldier in the Vietnam War. Though he appeared on a couple of shows when he returned, because it was an unpopular war he was quickly forgotten. Today his plaque dwells in the Addictions Unit at the VA Hospital. Back in the day, no one understood “PTSD” and had no idea what it was or how to cope with it.

“People back then didn’t give much credence to understanding [post-traumatic stress disorder] and addiction as they should have. I think we know a lot more and have moved forward with a greater understanding.” VA Public Affairs Director Rowe, 2003 via the Seattle Weekly.

It seems there is yet a long way to go.

ssgt joe ronnie hooper
Joe Ronnie Hooper- US Army photo

Featured Photo: US Army via arlingtoncemetery.net

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