The soldier who threw his body on the grenade survived and fought

During the spring of 1971, the 2nd Squadron of the 17th Cavalry guarded the airstrip at Khe Sanh, South Vietnam. They helped American planes flying missions in Laos.

On the 23rd of March, around 2 am; Michael Fitzmaurice, 21, one of the men in this unit, returned from guard duty to his quarters in the bunker. During the day, the North Vietnamese had repeatedly bombed American positions, but the night seemed serene. Then all of a sudden the bombs started coming in again.

Specialist Fourth Class Fitzmaurice realized it was more than a mortar attack when he checked from his bunker and saw that several North Vietnamese sappers had broken through the perimeter wire and infiltrated the US position in a suicide mission.

Fitzmaurice and a companion walked out into the trench that connected the Americans’ sand-filled battlegrounds. Enemy sappers were everywhere; they threw two explosive charges at Fitzmaurice, but he managed to throw them back. Unfortunately, a third grenade landed on the ground near him; realizing he was about to explode, he covered him with his jacket and threw his body over him. The explosion closed the door and trapped the sleeping soldiers inside the bunker, but their lives were spared.

Fitzmaurice suffered multiple injuries and his left eye was blinded. As the raiders dispersed across the area, he realized the end was soon and he didn’t want to go down without a fight, so he got to his feet. With blood on his face, he could barely concentrate, but he got out of the trench. When a friend yelled instructions to him, he started shooting at the sappers. Then a North Vietnamese grenade shattered his rifle, he knelt on the ground and groped for another rifle.

Caught by surprise, a North Vietnamese soldier was on top of him; Fitzmaurice engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat and killed him. Then he got his hands on another weapon, went back to the trench and started to lash out at the enemy again. He refused to be taken out until the fight was over.

In addition to losing his eyesight, Fitzmaurice’s eardrums were damaged and he had shrapnel all over his body. He was in the hospital for thirteen months. Out of service for about two years, he already worked in a slaughterhouse. That was in 1973, when the White House called to notify him that he would receive the Medal of Honor. He traveled to Washington; then, on October 15, President Richard Nixon awarded him the medal.