Profiles of Valor: Sp4c Gary G. Wetzel
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”
Gary Wetzel spent much of his life as a heavy equipment operator in his hometown of South Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But he spent part of it serving our country and his bravery and endurance under fire is legendary.
He joined the Army at age 18, as the war in Vietnam was heating up. On January 8, 1968, he was a Private First Class serving as a door gunner with the 173rd Assault Helicopter Company, part of an insertion force trapped in a landing zone by intense and deadly hostile fire. When his helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, it crashed violently. Two of his crew were killed and the surviving crew members then came under heavy fire.
Undeterred by his own severe wounds, Gary set about to protect his brothers at any cost — and he did so with honor and valor. For his actions, Gary was awarded the Medal of Honor.
His citation details his actions on a day he recalls vividly — as do those whose lives he saved: “Sp4c. Wetzel was going to the aid of his aircraft commander when he was blown into a rice paddy and critically wounded by two enemy rockets that exploded just inches from his location. Although bleeding profusely due to the loss of his left arm and severe wounds in his right arm, chest, and left leg, Sp4c. Wetzel staggered back to his original position in his gun-well and took the enemy forces under fire. His machine gun was the only weapon placing effective fire on the enemy at that time. Through a resolve that overcame the shock and intolerable pain of his injuries, Sp4c. Wetzel remained at his position until he had eliminated the automatic-weapons emplacement that had been inflicting heavy casualties on the American troops and preventing them from moving against this strong enemy force.”
The citation continues: “Refusing to attend his own extensive wounds, he attempted to return to the aid of his aircraft commander but passed out from loss of blood. Regaining consciousness, he persisted in his efforts to drag himself to the aid of his fellow crewman. After an agonizing effort, he came to the side of the crew chief who was attempting to drag the wounded aircraft commander to the safety of a nearby dike. Unswerving in his devotion to his fellow man, Sp4c. Wetzel assisted his crew chief even though he lost consciousness once again during this action.”
It concludes: “Sp4c. Wetzel displayed extraordinary heroism in his efforts to aid his fellow crewmen. His gallant actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.”
After his rescue a day later, he spent a week on the critical list, touch and go. His arm was amputated in a field hospital, and additional surgeries would follow. After five months of hospitalization, Gary began to relearn how to live a productive civilian life with a prosthetic arm.
When asked what the Medal of Honor meant to him, Wetzel replied: “Even though I’ve had the privilege to put that blue ribbon around my neck … I not only wear it for me, I wear it for everybody else and consider myself more or less a caretaker.” He added, “I’m not Superman. I was just a guy doing his job.”
Today, Gary devotes much of his time to his community, and especially those with severe illness or physical disabilities. He exemplifies the spirit of service and sacrifice which really makes America great!
Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776
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