MISSOULA – Ken Braun was playing a round of golf when the call came on his cell phone from his son, Jason: “Dad, you have to get home right away – the Marines are looking for you.”
In fact, some of them had been looking for Braun for some three decades; trying to find the medic who had risked his own life to save wounded Marines during a Vietnam War firefight.
Last week, during a ceremony at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington, Braun received one of the military’s highest honors – the Navy Cross – for his actions that day in March 1967.
“Of all the Vietnam soldiers to be honored, I’m glad Ken was the one who got this,” said Fred Graves, a Missoula resident and friend of Braun’s. “I’m glad the Marines decided to do this – I think it gives us all some redemption.”
“It was just totally unreal what they did for me,” Braun said Monday. “I lost it a couple of times and broke down. Hundreds of people came up afterward and shook my hand and cried. It was just unbelievable.”
In 1967, Braun was a 19-year-old hospital corpsman assigned to the Marines India Company in Vietnam.
While on a sweep, 100 Marines came upon an entire battalion of enemy soldiers armed with mortars and rockets.
Outnumbered, outgunned and suffering heavy casualties, the Marines were ordered to pull back.
Braun, a Minnesota native who entered the U.S. Navy corpsmen school at age 17, and joined the Marines’ India Company as a combat medic, launched into action.
In a battle now known as “Getlin’s Corners,” Braun moved throughout the shooting zone, treating the wounded Americans and exposing himself to enemy fire.
He repeatedly dragged wounded soldiers across open terrain, shielding them from gunfire and mortar blasts.
He fought his way back in the maelstrom where some Marines were trapped by enemy fire and many were wounded.
While moving from man to man and administering medical aid, Braun simultaneously fought off the enemy, killing in the melee two members of the North Vietnamese Army.
With enemy troops all around him, Braun held his position, treating the Marines, until he was shot three times in the back. In the end, 18 Marines from India Company were killed, including Braun’s lieutenant and captain, both of whom were honored posthumously for their actions. Forty more Marines were wounded.
For years, many of those who survived assumed Braun had either been killed or, if he was alive, had already been honored for his heroism.
Four years ago, a friend of Braun’s attending a Marine reunion ran into a woman who knew that a group of India Company Marines had been trying to find out what happened to Braun.
When they learned Braun was alive and never received an award for his actions, they got to work.
Last Tuesday, survivors joined some 1,000 other Marines in full dress, along with several thousand others, at a ceremony to award Braun with the Navy Cross.
“It was the most emotional thing I have ever been to in my whole life,” Graves said. “It was better than a marriage or a birth or presidential inauguration.”
Braun said he is deeply moved by the recognition, but feels all the Marines he served with were heroes, everyday people who were called to service.
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