Second highest Navy commendation awarded at Marine Corps Birthday celebration
VANCOUVER — Amidst hundreds of marines clad in their dress blues, shuffling through the halls of the Hilton’s Heritage Ballroom Saturday evening, one man in a civilian suit awaited the greatest honor.
Ret. 1st Sgt. John J. Lord Jr., received the second highest commendation for bravery in combat, the Navy Cross, at the Marine Corps Ball in Vancouver this past weekend.
Over 50 years have gone by since Lord executed life-saving maneuvers and leadership during an intense firefight in Vietnam during the summer of 1968. His actions were recognized then only by the bronze star, but his fellow soldiers felt he deserved more as time passed by.
“Several years later he received just a bronze star, and I was appalled,” said Jerry Walker, who was a Navy corpsman that day with Lord. “About eight years ago, Hank Fletcher and I, and couple other marines and corpsman said, ‘Hey, we gotta do something.’ All we can say is, it’s about damn time, because John Lord was one hell of a marine.”
The group petitioned for the approval of Lord’s award, and sought recognition for how he handled the company after their commanding officer was wounded.
As part of the Marine Corps 243rd birthday celebration, Lt. Col. Ronald C. Coleman Jr. of the 6th Engineer Support Battalion, awarded the Navy Cross to Lord. The ceremony was also attended by special guest and speaker Ret. Col. Jay D Wylie USMC.
Lord gave a speech as well, which at its heart, really served to honor his comrades. As he spoke, he made sure they remained standing, and spoke to their character, and how the honor was as much for them as himself.
“These men fought fifty years for me to achieve this award,” Lord said, his friends at his sides. “I cannot tell you how proud and humble I am in front of their presence. I cannot thank them enough.”
Cpl. Henry “Hank” Fletcher was one soldier he highlighted specifically for his actions on the day of the battle.
“Well it’s a big emotion for being here and seeing the first Marine Corps Ball that I’ve ever been to,” Fletcher said. “Especially to see 1st Sgt. Lord get the Navy Cross, which is a long time coming.”
Of the some 6,300 recipients of the Navy Cross, only 2,460 have been Marines, with Lord being the newest addition.
In the official citation, signed by the secretary of the navy, Lord is described to have acted with “… unwavering devotion … Disregarding enemy rounds impacting around him, he demonstrated exceptional battlefield competence as he fearlessly deployed the company…”
“It was really an awful day,” said Joe McLenigan, another marine who served with Lord in July of ‘68. “The best way I think to describe it is chaos. We were hit, it was a surprise. The Vietnamese, they succeeded in splitting us up and fracturing us. If it wasn’t for John Lord, I don’t know what would have happened.”
Perhaps the most noteworthy occurrence of the evening was when Lord was asked to come aside to participate in an on camera interview and photo shoot and refused to go without his friends.
He said he needed them standing with him.