November 29, 2023

Profiles of Valor: Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston

“The MOH is … the reflection of the fine young Marines I wear it for.”

When contemplating a Marine’s Marine, some of the first names that come to mind are Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller or Col. Wesley Lee Fox. But tall among legendary Marines is Georgia native Maj. Gen. James Livingston.

After graduating from Auburn University in 1962, Livingston almost joined the Army until a Marine recruiter convinced him otherwise. He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant and initially thought he would serve three years, but that turned into three decades. His first 13-month tour in Vietnam was 1963, and he then returned to train recruits at Parris Island, South Carolina. It was there he met his wife Sara, and they had two daughters, one of whom would become a Naval Academy graduate.

Promoted to Captain in 1966, Livingston deployed for his second Vietnam tour in August 1967. In May 1968, he was serving as the commanding officer of Company E of the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade when a Marine company was surrounded by an overwhelming enemy force near the village of Dai Do.

He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions leading Marines to rescue their fellow Marines. They destroyed more than 100 enemy bunkers, killing an estimated 400 enemy combatants in their drive to push the enemy back from their position.

His Medal of Honor citation notes in part:

Although twice painfully wounded by grenade fragments, he refused medical treatment and courageously led his men in the destruction of over 100 mutually supporting bunkers, driving the remaining enemy from their positions and relieving the pressure on the stranded marine company. … Wounded a third time and unable to walk, he steadfastly remained in the dangerously exposed area, deploying his men to more tenable positions and supervising the evacuation of casualties. Only when assured of the safety of his men did he allow himself to be evacuated.

Livingston says of their actions that day: “I went into the fight with about 180 Marines. After that stage of the fight, I only had about 35 Marines who were still walking.” When he was wounded a third time, he recalls: “All the kids saw me go down. We’d been really slugging it out and taking a lot of casualties. Basically, I told the kids to get out of there because we were getting surrounded, and leave me there — I’d take care of the bad guys up to the point I could no longer take care of the bad guys.”

Asked about what his Medal of Honor means, he says: “The MOH is the reflection of the experience I had in Vietnam, but most of all, it’s the reflection of the fine young Marines I wear it for. I try to wear it in remembrance of them.” I am grateful for having both met Livingston, who provided instrumental advice early in the process of developing the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, and for the copy of his book, Noble Warrior, on the shelf next to me as I write this.

Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston, your example of valor — an American Patriot defending your fellow warriors and Liberty for all above and beyond the call of duty and disregarding the peril to your own life — is eternal.

“Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776


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