In the footsteps of
In the Footsteps of

James McCloughan

Vietnam War
U.S. Army
James McCloughan

In college, James McCloughan studied kinesiology, physiology, anatomy, first aid, advanced first aid, strapping and taping – a course load designed to prepare him for his chosen profession: athletic coach and teacher in his native Michigan. But when he was drafted into the Vietnam War, that knowledge base was ideal for a very different role as a combat medic.

Drawing parallels between past and present conflicts, the latest issue of <em>Hallowed Ground</em> illuminates the timeless human experience of trauma, resilience and the profound connections that bind soldiers across generations.

Medal of Honor recipient Jim McCloughan at the Stones River National Battlefield Park, Murfreesboro, Tenn.

And the day he arrived in the theater, that training was put to immediate use when his unit hit an ambush and the freshly minted medic was faced with two dead, two wounded – and the need to take a life to protect his own.

“I was frozen in place when I shot this human being and watched him flip in the air and die. My sergeant saw how that had stunned me, and he slapped me and said: ‘Doc, that’s the way it’s going to be. Do you understand? It’s either going to be you or him.’”

Jim on May 15, 1969

Jim on May 15, 1969, holding an AK-47 he captured on Nui Yon Hill after days and nights of intense fighting.

James McCloughan in Vietnam

Jim, back row far right, with friends from his unit.

James McCloughan at Stones River National Battlefield, Murfreesboro, Tenn.

James McCloughan at Stones River National Battlefield, Murfreesboro, Tenn.

In May 1969, McCloughan’s Charlie Company was sent into the Tam Kỳ area near the foot of Nui Yon Hill. Moving to the very front of his unit to retrieve a wounded comrade, he saw the terrain ahead of them teeming with enemy soldiers. Although wounded himself, McCloughan refused to be evacuated to the rear for treatment. 

For two days, the fighting continued and the injured piled up. Once he had evacuated all those in his care, McCloughan collapsed, severely dehydrated – he’d sacrificed all his own water to keep the exposed organs of his casualties moistened. Months later, after being wounded in action a third time, McCloughan was moved off the front lines to serve in an evacuation hospital.

““I remembered what I’d seen on that hill and said, ‘I’m not going. You’re going to need me.’ I thought, by refusing to get on that helicopter, that I’d just spent my last day on Earth. But I’d rather be dead in a rice paddy than alive in a hospital to find out that the next day my men got killed because Jim McCloughan wasn’t there to do his job.””

James McCloughan

When he eventually returned home to Michigan, he finally took up his intended post at South Haven High School, where he spent four decades teaching psychology and shaping student athletes. Long before he was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2017, he had been inducted into the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.