The Medal of Honor

Do you know a Medal of Honor recipient? Do you know someone who’s been honored with a stamp? I do now.
Stockton resident Richard Pittman has been honored with an inclusion on a sheet of stamps honoring Vietnam veterans who were awarded the military’s highest accord. Because he was unable to attend a Memorial Day ceremony in Washington, DC, that featured the stamp’s unveiling, the U.S. Post Office brought the ceremony to him on June 26.
I met Richard a couple years ago through my wife, an adjunct English teacher at San Joaquin Delta College.
Richard’s wife was one of my wife’s students many years ago, and they have remained close friends since that time.
We visited Richard and his wife Patricia one day, and my wife handed me a sheet of paper detailing the incident that earned Richard the Medal of Honor.
My wife had a broad smile on her face and asked “Doesn’t that remind you of something?”
I said “Yeah. Audie Murphy.”
“Who?”
“You don’t know who Audie Muprhy is? The actor?”
No. My wife had no idea what I was talking about. Audie Murphy was, at one time, the most decorated soldier in U.S. military history.He, like Richard, took it upon himself to take up arms against the enemy when they were cornered, and single-handedly stopped what would have become a massacre.
While Richard’s actions were performed during Vietnam, Audie Murphy’s happened in the Second World War, in Germany.
He wrote a book about his experiences in Europe, entitled “To Hell And Back.” I highly recommend it, as it is a great book that was turned into a movie starring — Audie Murphy.
Apparently, Hollywood couldn’t find one man to play Murphy right, so the only option was to get the man himself. But get this, Murphy read the script, which stayed true to his memoir, and actually had parts of it removed because he said that moviegoers wouldn’t believe one man was able to some of the stuff he had actually done.
ANYWAY.
After reading Richard’s accomplishments, my wife asked “Doesn’t that remind you of Forrest Gump?”
“I saw that movie once.”
Turns out, Richard’s accomplishments caught the attention of director Robert Zemeckis, Gary Sinise — a HUGE supporter of soldiers and veterans — and Tom Hanks. In the 1990s, they all came to Richard’s house to get the scoop on what he had done.
Richard’s platoon came under heavy fire from a well-concealed and superior enemy unit. Richard traded his rifle for a machine gun, grabbed some ammo and rushed into the fray. He took small-arms fire at point blank range. He destroyed two automatic weapons, braved mortar and continued onward, where he raked as many as 40 enemy soldiers with heavy machine gun fire.
When he exhausted his ammo, he picked up an enemy submachine gun and a pistol from a fallen comrade and continued firing until the enemy retreated. The he lobbed a grenade at them and rejoined his platoon.
I don’t remember Forrest Gump, but apparently, Sinise, Hanks and Zemeckis used Richard’s experience for Forrest’s tour of Duty in the movie.
That’s pretty awesome.
I covered today’s ceremony honoring Richard, and am always honored to cover events for veterans.
My maternal grandfather stormed the beach at Omaha with the Marines in World War II, and when they said he was too old, he joined the Army and fought in Korea. My father was a jetfighter mechanic for the Air Force, stationed in Germany and Libya during Vietnam. My mom’s youngest brother was Marine in the 90s. I always try to thank the vets I meet for their service, and I am truly honored to know Richard. I think his story should be more well-known, so people can know what soldiers do to not only protect their country, but protect themselves and their friends. Maybe one day they’ll make a movie out of Richard’s Tour of Duty.

Side note: Audie Murphy was cast to play the killer Scorpio in Dirty Harry. He died in a plane crash in 1971, just weeks prior to filming. He was 46.

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