Patterson native receives Silver Star earned during Vietnam War
MORGAN CITY, La. -- More than 42 years after heroic Vietnam War action as a combat medic, Patterson native Earl Brannon received the nation’s third-highest award for valor, the Silver Star, during the annual reunion of the Americal Army Division in Atlanta.
Brannon, a 1966 graduate of Patterson High School, was surprised with the award at the reunion Sept. 15.
“It was a real hush, hush thing right down to the night he got the award,” David Taylor, chairman of the Americal Division Veterans Association, said.
Brannon plans to return to Patterson for the high school’s homecoming festivities Oct. 18 and 19 where he will be recognized.
“I think they are still in the organizing stage,” Brannon said.
Frank Guarisco, one of Brannon’s hometown mentors, is organizing the recognition, he said.
On March 2, 1970, Brannon entered a minefield to treat a soldier who had detonated a well-concealed enemy booby trap and was severely injured, Taylor wrote in a news release about the award.
Taylor’s report on Brannon’s citation states, “Reacting immediately to the urgency of the situation, Private Brannon un-hesitantly moved through the heavily mined area to his wounded comrade’s position. Fully aware of the possibility of additional enemy activity, he skillfully began administering emergency first aid to the wounded soldier. While treating his comrade, Private Brannon was severely wounded when a second well-concealed explosive device was triggered. With complete disregard for his personal safety, he denied himself medical attention until his fallen comrade was treated.”
The Army citation stated that not only were Brannon’s actions instrumental in saving the life of his comrade, but his actions in the minefield gave inspiration to his entire unit, Taylor wrote.
After being wounded, Brannon ended up in a hospital in Japan and many in his unit thought he was dead.
“They wouldn’t let us communicate with guys back in our platoon or company,” he said. “We would write letters,” but they were not delivered, he said.
“They thought it would be bad for morale,” he said. “How much worse for morale can it be than to think some guy is dead?”
Brannon said he enjoyed being a combat medic in the second platoon of Alpha Company, 5th/46th Infantry Battalion.
“They call them combat medics for reason. You are like any other soldier except for when somebody gets hurt,” he said. “I actually enjoyed being medic because the medic was, if he was any good, one of the most respected guys in the platoon. Nobody wanted the medic mad at them because that was the guy who was going to come get you.”
Brannon’s platoon leader, 1st Lt. William Wolski, put in the paperwork recommending Brannon for the Silver Star.
“When the first man hit the mine we heard the horrible sound of a muffled explosion, the sure indication that a mine had been detonated,” Wolski said. “Brannon moved forward, already taking out bandages from his medic’s vest as he approached the wounded soldier. Time was critical. Men were telling him ‘be careful, be careful’. Everyone else froze. He reached the wounded soldier and, in the process treating his serious wounds, detonated a larger mine which took its toll. He lost both his legs. When another soldier who had had some medical training in civilian life went to Brannon’s position, Brannon refused aid, telling him to take care of his comrade, even though Brannon’s injuries were much more severe.”
Last year, during a conversation with Brannon, Wolski, now a retired Army lieutenant colonel, mentioned the Silver Star award but Brannon said he didn’t know anything about it, or that he was nominated for the award and that he never received it, Taylor reported.
“Wolski was shocked that Brannon had not received the award (the division had published the award four months after the incident, in July 1970),” Taylor wrote. “Then Wolski became angered that the government had not forwarded the award to Brannon. But, as Wolski reflects, ‘Earl spent 3½ years in hospitals for treatment of his wounds, so I can see where the paperwork may have been lost. But we take care of our own in the Army, and I started the process to get his medal so we could present it to him as a surprise, at our division’s annual reunion, which this year was in Atlanta, Ga. That award ceremony brought some closure for Earl who has led a heroic life after Vietnam, and it also brought closure for many of us who were with him on that fateful day and who were also present at the award ceremony.’”
Brannon attributes much of the delay to many thinking he was dead.
“I was pretty blowed up,” he said of his wounds.
After searching for him, Brannon said at one point Wolski called the VA, “and they said I was dead.”
Brannon returned home from the Army and he and his wife, Vicki, a Berwick native, resumed civilian life. He worked for a year selling insurance for Guarisco, but ended up employed at Kerr-McGee for 20 years.
Brannon, 64, is retired and they live outside Tenaha, Texas.
As for homecoming, “I’m actually looking forward to it,” said the former 155-pound PHS tackle.