On the night of July 16, 1966, Lance Cpl. Ned Seath saved Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines. He had been painfully wounded by mortar fire in the leg and hand but frantically worked to assemble an M60 machine gun from the fragments of two badly damaged weapons.
Hundreds of North Vietnamese Army soldiers bore down on his unit’s position, but he was unshakable. With only the occasional flicker of illumination rounds to light his work, he got the weapon up in the nick of time and forced the enemy’s retreat.
Nearly 45 years later, Seath received a Navy Cross at the age of 67 in recognition of his heroism. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus presented Seath with the service’s second-highest valor award during a ceremony Friday at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
The men Seath saved had children and grandchildren, Mabus said, and “there is no greater legacy than that.”
Seath, who would later join the Reserve and serve as a corporal until 1982, said the ceremony was a welcome reminder of the men he served with and the lives he saved.
Most of the enemy targets Seath faced that night were inside 20 meters. He eventually stood to fire because fallen enemy troops began to obstruct his field of fire.
“When I got that gun up, I shot them up and piled them up,” Seath said.
The ceremony was the culmination of a seven-year effort by Seath’s fellow Marines to secure him recognition for his valor.
“Had it not been for Ned Seath getting that machine gun started, there is no doubt in my mind we would have been overrun,” said Bill Hutton, who fought in a foxhole next to Seath during the attacks. “By the time he had it assembled, they were on top of our fighting holes. … His heroism saved our company from being annihilated.”
That’s why Hutton, who is now the senior vice commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, was appalled to learn during a 2003 Kilo Company reunion that Seath received only a Purple Heart for his actions. Several officers in their unit, which served as a blocking force to prevent enemy troops from escaping during Operation Hastings, had received decorations, including the Medal of Honor and Silver Star.
Hutton approached retired Maj. Gen. David Richwine, who at the time of the fight was their company commander, and collaborated with him to compile and submit a Navy Cross recommendation. Hutton spent years tracking down former 3/4 Marines and gathering supporting information for the recommendation package. Then, in 2008, Richwine signed off on the package and submitted it to the Marine Corps for consideration.
During Operation Hastings, he said, every day was a fight and commanders were busy accounting for casualties and conducting operations.
Seath also was presented the Bronze Star with “V” device, a medal for which he was approved in the 1960s but was never presented, at Friday’s ceremony. Seath earned the medal for actions a day earlier when an enemy sniper killed a Marine and wounded another. Despite being told the Marine could not be recovered, Seath crawled into the sniper’s line of fire and pulled the Marine back to safety, before killing the sniper with machine-gun fire.
Hutton said if anyone deserved recognition, it was Seath.
“Had it not been for Ned Seath, I would have been interred at Arlington with the inscription, ‘William R Hutton, born 4 July 1947, KIA Vietnam, 16 July 1966,’ ” Hutton said.
story by: James K. Sanborn
photo courtesy of: Thomas Brown