Several years ago, I had the honor of meeting Paul Bucha. At the time, I only knew that he was a foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. We spoke at length about the current state of politics and his vision for the future of our country. I listened politely, not knowing exactly who he was. When he left, he shook my hand and gave me the challenge coin you see in the picture above. To say I was stunned would be an understatement. His heroic story appears below…
Bucha was sent to Vietnam in 1967 as a captain and commander of Company D, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment. On March 16, 1968, he and his company of 89 men were dropped by helicopter southwest of Phuoc Vinh. The area was believed to be a North Vietnamese stronghold and Bucha’s unit was tasked with seeking out and engaging the enemy forces. For two days Company D encountered light resistance as it cleared North Vietnamese positions. On the afternoon of March 18, the company’s lead group of about twelve men stumbled upon a full North Vietnamese Ary battalion that had stopped to camp for the night. The lead element came under heavy fire and was pinned down. Bucha crawled towards them and destroyed an NVA bunker. He returned to the company perimeter and ordered a withdrawal to a more defensible position. Throughout the night he encouraged his men, distributed ammunition, and directed artillery and helicopter gunship fire. At one point he stood exposed and used flashlights to direct helicopters which were evacuating the wounded and bringing in supplies. The next morning, as the NVA forces withdrew, he led a party to rescue those soldiers who had been cut off from the rest of the company.
Once his tour in Vietnam ended in April 1970, Bucha returned to the United States and taught Political Science at West Point. It was during this time that he learned he would be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in the battle near Phuoc Vinh. The medal was presented to him on May 14, 1970, by President Richard Nixon.
Rank and organization: Captain, U.S. Army, Company D, 3d Battalion. 187th Infantry, 3d Brigade, 101st Airborne Division. Place and date: Near Phuoc Vinh, Binh Duong Province, Republic of Vietnam, 16- March 19, 1968. Entered service at: U .S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y. Born: August 1, 1943, Washington, D.C.
MEDAL OF HONOR CITATION
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Capt. Bucha distinguished himself while serving as commanding officer, Company D, on a reconnaissance-in-force mission against enemy forces near Phuoc Vinh. The company was inserted by helicopter into the suspected enemy stronghold to locate and destroy the enemy. During this period Capt. Bucha aggressively and courageously led his men in the destruction of enemy fortifications and base areas and eliminated scattered resistance impeding the advance of the company. On 18 March while advancing to contact, the lead elements of the company became engaged by the heavy automatic weapon, heavy machine gun, rocket propelled grenade, Claymore mine and small-arms fire of an estimated battalion-size force. Capt. Bucha, with complete disregard for his safety, moved to the threatened area to direct the defense and ordered reinforcements to the aid of the lead element. Seeing that his men were pinned down by heavy machine gun fire from a concealed bunker located some 40 meters to the front of the positions, Capt. Bucha crawled through the hail of fire to single-handedly destroy the bunker with grenades. During this heroic action Capt. Bucha received a painful shrapnel wound. Returning to the perimeter, he observed that his unit could not hold its positions and repel the human wave assaults launched by the determined enemy. Capt. Bucha ordered the withdrawal of the unit elements and covered the withdrawal to positions of a company perimeter from which he could direct fire upon the charging enemy. When 1 friendly element retrieving casualties was ambushed and cut off from the perimeter, Capt. Bucha ordered them to feign death and he directed artillery fire around them. During the night Capt. Bucha moved throughout the position, distributing ammunition, providing encouragement and insuring the integrity of the defense. He directed artillery, helicopter gunship and Air Force gunship fire on the enemy strong points and attacking forces, marking the positions with smoke grenades. Using flashlights in complete view of enemy snipers, he directed the medical evacuation of 3 air-ambulance loads of seriously wounded personnel and the helicopter supply of his company. At daybreak Capt. Bucha led a rescue party to recover the dead and wounded members of the ambushed element. During the period of intensive combat, Capt. Bucha, by his extraordinary heroism, inspirational example, outstanding leadership and professional competence, led his company in the decimation of a superior enemy force which left 156 dead on the battlefield. His bravery and gallantry at the risk of his life are in the highest traditions of the military service, Capt. Bucha has reflected great credit on himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.