Gary B. Beikirch

Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company B, 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces.
Kontum Province, Republic of Vietnam, 4/1/70

“I would like to share with you two of the most significant ex-periences in my life. My experiences in Vietnam taught me many life-changing lessons: How precious life is…how frightening death is…and how important God is to both life and death. After being med-evaced from Vietnam, wounded three times, and spending al-most a year in the hospital, I was left with questions that I could not answer, an anger I could not control, and a guilt that almost de-stroyed me. What I needed was my second experience.

“Two years after leaving Vietnam, a friend shared with me a simple but powerful message: God loved me…. He had forgiven me because His Son, Jesus Christ, died for me, and He wanted His Spirit to become the center of my life. God’s allowing me to wear the Medal of Honor was only to open doors so I could share His love (Jer. 9:23-24; Ps. 49:20). Although this is not Scripture, the following quote had an immediate impact on me as soon as I read it. I first saw it in a Mike Force team house in Pleiku. ‘To really live you must almost die. To those who fight for it…life has a meaning…the protected will never know!’”


CITATION

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Sgt. Beikirch, medical aidman, Detachment B-24, Company B, distinguished himself during the defense of Camp Dak Seang.

The allied defenders suffered a number of casualties as a result of an intense, devastating attack launched by the enemy from well-concealed positions surrounding the camp. Sgt. Beikirch, with com-plete disregard for his personal safety, moved unhesitatingly through the withering enemy fire to his fallen comrades, applied first aid to their wounds and assisted them to the medical aid station. When in-formed that a seriously injured American officer was lying in an ex-posed position, Sgt. Beikirch ran immediately through the hail of fire. Although he was wounded seriously by fragments from an ex-ploding enemy mortar shell, Sgt. Beikirch carried the officer to a medical aid station. Ignoring his own serious injuries, Sgt. Beikirch left the relative safety of the medical bunker to search for and evac-uate other men who had been injured. He was again wounded as he dragged a critically injured Vietnamese soldier to the medical bunker while simultaneously applying mouth-to-mouth resuscita-tion to sustain his life. Sgt. Beikirch again refused treatment and continued his search for other casualties until he collapsed. Only then did he permit himself to be treated. Sgt. Beikirch’s complete devotion to the welfare of his comrades, at the risk of his life, are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the U.S. Army.

FOR HIS HONOR
April 1st, 1970…over thirty years ago but I can still hear the screams, the explosions, the gunfire. April Fools day…if only it could have been a joke…but it was not. It was painfully real.

I was a member of a Green Beret Special Forces A team in Vietnam. Our peaceful Montagnard jungle camp was surrounded by 3 North Vietnamese regiments. Inside the camp of Dak Seang were 12 Americans and 2,300 Montagnard villagers, mostly women and children. It is still their screams and lifeless bodies that I remember even today.

Artillery and rockets began pounding the camp in the early morning and continued for hours. Then the “human wave” assault of ground troops began. Our jungle home had become a scene of horror, terror, and death.

Running across an open area, I saw a wounded Montagnard (we affectionately called them “Yards”) lying on the ground. As I was trying to bandage his wounds, I heard “IT” coming, like a diesel train…more artillery…maybe a 122mm rocket. As I threw my body over the wounded man to shield him from the explosion, I felt like I had been kicked in the back by a horse. Shrapnel from the blasts had slammed into my back and abdomen. The concussion from the blast had thrown me about 25 feet into a wall of sandbags by our mortar pit. I tried to get up but could not move my legs. I remember thinking, “Well, at least I’m alive…and hey! There’s a Purple Heart.” I looked back to see what had happened to the “Yard” I was helping and all that was left was pieces…the explosion had torn him apart. How? Why? I was lying on top of him. Why was I still alive? These questions would plague me for years, but at that moment, there was too much to do.

Two other “Yards” came by and picked me up. They wanted to take me to the medical bunker but I yelled, “No!! We’ve got things to do up here.” For hours they carried me as we treated the wounded, dragged bodies, distributed ammo, directed fire, and fought for our lives. As I continued to lose blood, I was getting weaker. Also by this time I was wounded two more times. I finally lost consciousness. When I awoke I realized they had taken me to the underground medical bunker. Pat, a new medic who had been in camp less than a week said, “Man, you’re hurt bad. We got to get you out of here.” I screamed out to my “Yards”: “Get me out of here. If I am going to die, I am not going to die down here.” A year of living with these “Yards” had developed a strong bond of love and trust between us. It was this bond that made them pick me up and carry me back out into the battle.

As the battle raged on, my two “Yard” friends carried me for hours, taking me where I directed them, helping me care for the wounded, shielding me, protecting me, holding me up as we con-tinued to fight. Later, I would again be plagued by the questions of, “Why did they carry me all that time? Why did they stay with me?” They never left my side. What made their love for me so strong that they were willing to give their lives for me? One was killed as he saved my life.

At some point, I finally collapsed and was unable to go on. From here on my personal memories are a swirling stream of spo-radic events…watching med-evac helicopters being shot down as they tried to get me out…strong arms reaching down and pulling me into the “warm belly” of a chopper, the face of the young medic shocked at seeing that I was still alive, but telling me I was going to be OK, being thrown onto a litter and rushed into an operating room, IVs in my arms and neck, catheters in every opening of my body, lights, shouting, and then…darkness.

I awoke not knowing how long I had been unconscious. I did a quick self exam…unable to move from my waist down (I would learn later that it was only a temporary injury, a shock to my spine and spinal cord from the shrapnel injury.) “What is that on my
stomach?” My large intestine was in a plastic bag (shrapnel had per-forated my large intestine and a colostomy had been done). More tubes were in my body…one through my nose and in the stomach…my stomach! Why did it hurt so? I looked down and real-ized it had been ripped open and was now sutured back together. Then darkness…I was once again unconscious. These periods of being “in and out of consciousness” continued…each time bringing new awareness. Once, I came to and watched as an Australian ad-visor fought for his last breath and lost. As they pulled the sheet over his head, I began drifting into unconsciousness and wondered if this was MY death.

I awoke once again but this time my waking moments were spent battling with the deaths of so many of my friends: the “Yard” I covered with my body, the one who carried me for hours…Why am I still alive and they are not? God, I feel so guilty, so helpless, so angry.

Days passed as I continued to come and go. One day I awoke and there was a chaplain standing by the next bed praying with a young dying soldier. He turned and saw my open eyes. “Glad to see you’re awake. I’ve been praying for you for a couple of days. Would you like to pray?” My answer to his question was a pleading, “I don’t know how.” He simply replied, “That doesn’t matter. God knows how to listen.” My prayer was a simple one: “God I don’t know if you’re real. I don’t know if you’re here, but I’m scared and I need You.”

Right then something happened…no flashes of light, no mirac-ulous physical healing, no visions on the wall or by my bed, but a peace, a comfort, a “knowing” that there was Someone outside of myself who heard my prayer and wanted me to know that I was loved as I was never loved before.

The next two years were spent searching to find out more about this Presence, this God who had touched my life. I traveled around the country, through Canada, studied different philosophies, reli-gions, searching for ways that might lead me once again to that Peace. My search led me to a small town on the ocean just south of Boston. I was visiting a friend and told him about Vietnam, the lessons it had taught me, the questions it had left with me, and my efforts to find God. He told me that there is no mystery to finding God. He then asked me to do him a favor and read a book. He handed me a New Testament.

As I read what Jesus taught about life, the heart of man, our need for forgiveness, and God’s love for us, I knew that He was the One whom I had met in the hospital bed in Vietnam. He had seen my pain and my fear and had given me His Peace and Comfort. He also had been with me all those years as I was looking for more of that Peace. As I read more of His words I learned that He wanted me to know Him. He wanted to become a greater part of my life. He didn’t want me to know about Him, He wanted me to KNOW HIM, to walk with Him, to love Him, and allow Him to love me.

After my discharge from the Army, I had planned on going to medical school. However, once I started walking with my new “Friend,” I felt like He wanted me to do something different. I packed my bags, headed for Florida with a Bible, and stayed there for a couple of months praying and asking God what He wanted me to do. His answer to me was to go into the ministry.

In September of 1973, I entered seminary, dedicating my life to serving the God who had given me life. One night a few weeks later I received a phone call from Washington, D.C. asking me to come to Washington and be presented the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Nixon. Coincidence? I do not believe in coincidences any more…not when you are walking with God. However, among many other emotions I was also very confused. I knew I was not worthy of such an honor. God knew I wasn’t worthy. But as I looked to Him for the reason, I believe He presented the honor to me so that it might “open doors” and allow others to hear about His desire to have a personal relationship with us through His Son, Jesus Christ.

God does have a plan and a purpose for our lives, and although there is no mystery to finding Him, at times it is a mystery to walk with Him. It wasn’t easy for me at first. Even now there are times when I fail to trust His love completely, but then I remember my two “Yard” friends who loved me, protected me, and carried me when I couldn’t walk. If I could trust them with my life, why shouldn’t I be able to trust Jesus?

So each day I trust and walk humbly with Him…and I wear the Medal of Honor for Him and my two “Yard” friends.
—Gary Beikirch