Medics have one of the toughest jobs in the military — saving wounded comrades despite the danger they may face on the battlefield. Army Spc. 5th Class Edgar McWethy Jr. understood that commitment; he gave his own life while trying to save several of his fellow platoon members in Vietnam. For his sacrifice, he earned the Medal of Honor.
McWethy was born Nov. 22, 1944, in Leadville, Colorado, to Edgar and Martha. Growing up, he was active in the Boy Scouts and enjoyed being a member of the Baptist church.
McWethy was 19 and working at the Leadville post office when he was drafted into the Army in 1964. He received training as a medical specialist and was attached to Company B, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division. His unit was sent to Vietnam on Sept. 21, 1966. Spotlight: Commemorating the Vietnam War
On June 21, 1967, McWethy and his platoon were in Binh Dinh Province when they rushed to the site of a downed helicopter. As soon as they set up a defensive perimeter around the aircraft, enemy forces surrounded them on three sides and opened fire.
The platoon leader and radio operator were hit almost immediately, so McWethy rushed through the fire-swept area to help. There was nothing he could do to save the radio operator, but the aid he gave the platoon leader helped that man retain command during a critical moment.
After hearing another call for help, McWethy got up again and ran through the exposed area. He was wounded in the head and knocked down, but he got up and kept going, only to be hit again in the leg. In pain, he continued pushing forward until he reached more injured comrades.
When McWethy finished treating those men, he noticed a fallen soldier in an open area being raked with enemy fire. McWethy quickly moved toward that man and was injured a third time. He was weak and in extreme pain by the time he made it to the fallen soldier’s side, but he attempted to do his job anyway. McWethy was trying to resuscitate the soldier when he was struck by a fourth bullet and died.
McWethy’s desire to do his job in the face of danger inspired the other men in his platoon. They were able to successfully defend their position and force the enemy back.
During the same ceremony, Nixon also awarded the Medal of Honor to Army Spc. 4th Class Carmel Harvey Jr., who was in McWethy’s platoon and died in the same firefight. It’s rare for two people in the same platoon to earn the nation’s highest honor for valor during the same engagement.
McWethy is buried in Pence Cemetery in Baxter Springs, Colorado, where his parents had relocated.
His spirit lives on in the military medical community. Two buildings at Joint Base San Antonio are named for McWethy, as is a medical clinic at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.