Almost 50 years ago, two privates first class in Delta Company, 4th Battalion, 3d U.S Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) were ambushed by a battalion of North Vietnamese. The Soldiers were outnumbered 10-1.
Those men, Rick Adler, from Washington state, and Gary Birka, from Ohio, were awarded the Silver Star on September 30, 2016, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wa. Adler and Birka fought valiantly despite being wounded in the battle on August 29, 1969.
The 110 U.S. Soldiers involved were under heavy small arms and motor fire. Only 64 survived.
Adler, according to Army records, set up a perimeter and held his position with a machine gun for several hours. Motor fire wounded Adler, but he continued redistributing ammunition and encouraging the men nearby.
Soon after, Adler was wounded a second and third time and collapsed. Birka, saw Adler in trouble, so he stopped firing his machine gun and rushed into an open area to save his friend.
Birka was struck by motor fire during the rescue, but a camcorder he was carrying in his rucksack shielded him from the explosion and saved his life.
The two men were sent to different hospitals in Japan when they were evacuated and didn’t see each other again for 40 years.
Through social media, the two men were reunited in 2015.
Adler and Birka’s former platoon leader, Tom Pearson, never forgot the gallantry displayed by these two men. Pearson made it his mission to make sure the two men would be recognized for their actions.
Pearson contacted the U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, Ron Johnson, and lobbied on their behalf to be awarded for their bravery in action. Johnson serves as the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
The Army finally agreed, and the two men were awarded the Silver Star, the third-highest decoration a Soldier can receive for valor, 47 years after the battle.