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He walked as tall as Alvin York and Audie Murphy. But they earned their combat records in World Wars I and II. Joe earned his medals in that unpopular war. That place called Vietnam.

At the age of 17 Joe enlisted in the Navy. He liked the service life and planned a military career. But when it was time to reenlist in 1961, he changed to the Army. Joe ended up with the 101st Airborne Division and went to Vietnam where he earned The Congressional Medal of Honor.

…Company D. was assualting a heavily defended enemy position along a river bank when it encountered a withering hail of fire from rockets, machine-guns and automatic weapons. He rallied several men and stormed across the river, over running several bunkers on the opposite shore.

…..With utter disregard for his own saftey, he moved out under the intense fire again and pulled back the wounded, moving them to saftey…Joe was seriously wounded, but refused medical aid and returned to his men. With the relentless enemy fire disrupting the attack, he single-handedly stormed three enemy bunkers, destroying them with hand grenades and rifle fire, and shot two enemy soldiers who had attacked and wounded the Chaplin….

Finding his men under heavy fire from a house to the front, he proceeded alone to the building, killing its occupants with rifle fire and grenades By now his initial body wound had been compounded by grenade fragments, yet, despite the multiple wounds and loss of blood, he continued to lead his men against the intense enemy fire….

He gathered several grenades and raced down a small trench which ran the length of the bunker line, tossing grenades into each bunker as he passed by, killing all but two of the occupants… He then raced across an open field, still under enemy fire, to rescue a wounded man who was trapped in a trench. Upon reaching the man, he was faced by an armed enemy soldier whom he killed with a pistol… He neutralized the final pocket of enemy resistance by fatally wounding three North Vietnamese officers…

Joe was wounded seven times that day. But he wouldn’t allow himself to be removed from the battlefield until all his men were safe. He finally passed out from loss of blood.

He regained consiousness in a field hospital. But Joe was still worried about his men, young men who depended upon the experience of the 29 year old sargent.

The next day he stole a rifle and hitched a ride back to his outfit. Technially, he was AWOL. But by the time the Army found him two days later, Joe had been wounded again.

President Richard Nixon pinned the Medal of Honor on Joe, who had been comissioned a 2nd Lt. He went on a speaking tour across the nation.

Then he asked to go back to Vietnam.

After two combat tours in the war, Joe had received 37 medals. They included two Silver Stars(one of them had started out as another recommendation for a second Medal of Honor), six Bronze Stars and eight Purple Hearts.

Joe returned to duty at Fort Polk, La. where he was training recruits. But he didn’t fit in well with stateside duty and he resigned his comission in 1972.

Joe was disillusioned by the Army and its lack of discipline. He believed that discipline and training were what paid off in combat.

Joe’s wife said he cried that day as he watched the news films showing the last of the American forces being pulled out of Vietnam. He told her all those lives and all those broken bodies had been wasted. He said we had accomplished nothing.

Joe made many speeches about his combat experiences. He told a reporter he could smell the enemy.

If someone asked, he would tell them about the day he won The Medal of Honor, “I had no choice that day, ” Joe would say, “I did what I had to do.”

That was Joe Hooper’s philosophy in life. You do what you have to do at the time and face tomnorrow when it arrives.

Joe was in Louisville, Kentucky for the running of the Kentucky Derby, when he died on May 5,1979. He was found in a hotel room. He was 40 years old. He died a quiet death from a cerebral hemorrage while sleeping.

 

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