Veteran’s Day is a big deal to me. Maybe it’s because I have a family with a strong military tradition – or perhaps, it’s because I was raised in a time when patriotism was encouraged. Either way, not a Veteran’s Day passes when I don’t think of the veterans who have graced my life.
This Veteran’s Day, my Uncle Tom is on my mind. Uncle Tom was my mama’s oldest brother. He passed away just before my 11th birthday. I didn’t get to spend much time with him, so my memories are faint. My favorites are of the holidays and the porcelain dolls he bought me for Christmas every year.
Growing up, I recall being aware Uncle Tom was in the US Army during Vietnam. His military photo hung in my grandparent’s house. At some point, I remember my grandma receiving a letter from Bill Clinton regarding Uncle Tom’s military service. For the life of me, I can’t remember when that letter came, only that it did. It wasn’t until this past year that I figured out why it came.
While browsing around on Ancestry a few months ago, I discovered my cousin’s wife had created a family tree. On the tree was a single photo of my Uncle Tom and information regarding his heroic actions during combat. He was one of only 1700 men to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for Vietnam. I cried as I sat and read about my Uncle Tom, the war hero.
Today, I thought I’d share his actions with all of y’all for Veteran’s Day.
“The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918 (amended by act of July 25, 1963), takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Specialist Fourth Class Thomas E. Bullard (ASN: US-53437703), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam, while serving with 116th Assault Helicopter Company, 269th Combat Aviation Battalion, 12th Combat Aviation Group, 1st Aviation Brigade. Specialist Four Bullard distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 17 July 1967 while serving as crew chief of an assault helicopter supporting infantry operations deep in hostile territory. Shortly before noon, Specialist Bullard’s crew received an urgent request for emergency evacuation of two seriously wounded soldiers. The ground unit was heavily engaged when the helicopter arrived at the pickup site, and the ship was driven off by intensely savage fire after making a low-level pass to locate the casualties. The wounded men were detected in a canal away from the main force, and the aircraft quickly returned and landed nearby. Although the helicopter was continuously raked by intense fire, Specialist Bullard leaped from the craft and dashed alone through a hail of bullets to reach the injured men. Completely disregarding his own safety, Specialist Bullard began carrying one of them to the aircraft. Under a curtain of bullets and flying shrapnel, he quickly placed the wounded man aboard. With bullets striking all around him, he sprinted back to the canal and swam across it to reach the second casualty. Using a lifesaving carry, he brought the victim back through the water and began moving him to the ship. The Viet Cong intensified their fire in an attempt to stop his valiant efforts, but he ignored this extreme hazard and loaded the patient aboard. He exposed himself to the enemy weapons during the takeoff to man a doorgun and fire furiously on the determined attackers. His unselfish actions at great risk to his own life saved the lives of two seriously wounded comrades. Specialist Four Bullard’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.”
To my late Uncle Tom and all veterans: Thank you for your service.