President Donald Trump will honor an Air Force combat controller who was killed in Afghanistan in 2002 with the Medal of Honor, making Tech Sgt. John A. Chapman the first airman to receive the medal since the Vietnam War.
Chapman’s spouse, Valerie Nessel, will accept the award, which is given for Chapman’s actions on Roberts Ridge in March 2002, Stars and Stripes reported.
“Chapman is a classic American hero,” said Dwight Mears, an author and former West Point History professor who has studied military medals, according to USA Today. “He tenaciously continued fighting the enemy even after being mortally wounded.”
Chapman was part of a team seeking al-Qaida fighters on Takur Ghar mountain in eastern Afghanistan. During the mission, Chapman’s helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. One team member was ejected from the chopper, which later crashed. Chapman and the Navy SEALs he was transporting “voluntarily returned to the snow-capped mountain, into the heart of a known enemy stronghold, in an attempt to rescue their stranded teammate,” the White House said in a news release announcing the ceremony.
“Sergeant Chapman charged into enemy fire through harrowing conditions, seized an enemy bunker, and killed its enemy occupants. He then moved from cover to engage a machine gun firing on his team from a second bunker. While engaging this position, he was severely wounded by enemy gunfire. Despite severe wounds, he continued to fight relentlessly, sustaining a violent engagement with multiple enemy personnel before paying the ultimate sacrifice,” the White House said.
Chapman’s battle continued even after the SEALs were extracted.
Drone footage analysis conducted in 2014, years after the incident, showed that Chapman resumed the battle against al-Qaida fighters even after any hope of a rescue was gone.
The video showed that Chapman, although wounded, shot and killed one al-Qaida militant and killed another in hand-to-hand combat, the Air Force Times reported.
Based upon the video, the Air Force further investigated the incident and recommended that in addition to the Air Force Cross given to Chapman posthumously, he also receive the Medal of Honor.
“Tech. Sgt. John Chapman earned America’s highest military award, the Medal of Honor, for the actions he performed to save fellow Americans on a mountain in Afghanistan more than 16 years ago,” Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said in a statement, according to the Air Force Times. “He will forever be an example of what it means to be one of America’s best and bravest airmen.”
Other Air Force leaders said Chapman’s honor was well-deserved.
“Tech. Sgt. John Chapman fought tenaciously for his nation and his teammates on that hill in Afghanistan,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein said in a statement.
“His inspiring story is one of selfless service, courage, perseverance, and honor as he fought side by side with his fellow soldiers and sailors against a determined and dug-in enemy. Tech. Sgt. Chapman represents all that is good, all that is right, and all that is best in our American airmen,” Goldfein said.
The Air Force had been working to secure the medal for Chapman, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright said.
“This is a reflection of our commitment to recognizing the heroic actions of our Airmen,” Wright said. “As Chapman’s story reminds us, we have a sacred duty to honor the actions and sacrifices of all our servicemembers. I share our airmen’s deepest gratitude to the Chapman family, as well as the family members of all those who gave their lives serving our great nation.”
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