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August 9, 2023

Profiles of Valor: SGT Santiago J. Erevia (USA)

“I had no recourse other than I was able to fight or I was going to die.”

Santiago Erevia is a native to Nordheim, Texas. At age 22 in 1968, the deadliest year of the Vietnam War, he joined the Army, serving with the Company C, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division. He arrived in Vietnam in November 1968, but it was on May 21, 1969, when then-Spc. 4 Erevia would distinguish himself as a radio-telephone operator on a “search and destroy” mission during Operation Lamar Plain.

During his two years in Vietnam, he narrowly escaped death many times, earning both a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. The men in his unit joked that he was the luckiest guy alive.

According to Erevia: “I was very, very fortunate. I think I stepped on quite a few mines.” In one close call involving a claymore stolen by the enemy, he says: “We came up to a culvert, about six or seven feet deep. I had to climb down and get up again. That was my savior. I helped everybody get up. There were three or four guys who went up ahead of me. They hit the Claymore mine. The front guy lost his leg. One guy had pellets all the way up his front. The third man had his hand broken. I was the fourth man. Nothing touched me. I was like a miracle baby.”

In May of ‘69, he was on the frontlines in the intense 10-day campaign to seize a mountaintop that would be infamously nicknamed “Hamburger Hill” because of the horrific injuries sustained by many soldiers. But it was Erevia’s battalion air assault on another hill on May 21 where his mettle would be heroically tested.

“We had wounded guys,” Erevia recalls, and after his M-16 malfunctioned, he was ordered by his company commander to stay behind and care for the wounded. However, surrounded later in the day, he crawled through the field of fire, collecting M-16s, ammo, and grenades from the wounded and dead in order to defend the wounded.

His Medal of Honor citation for his actions that day notes:

After breaching an insurgent perimeter, Specialist Four Erevia was designated by his platoon leader to render first aid to several casualties, and the rest of the platoon moved forward. As he was doing so, he came under intense hostile fire from four bunkers to his left front. Although he could have taken cover with the rest of the element, he chose a retaliatory course of action. With heavy enemy fire directed at him, he moved in full view of the hostile gunners as he proceeded to crawl from one wounded man to another, gathering ammunition. Armed with two M-16 rifles and several hand grenades, he charged toward the enemy positions behind the suppressive fire of the two rifles. Under very intense fire, he continued to advance on the insurgents until he was near the first bunker. Disregarding the enemy fire, he pulled the pin from a hand grenade and advanced on the bunker, leveling suppressive fire until he could drop the grenade into the bunker, mortally wounding the insurgent and destroying the fortification. Without hesitation, he employed identical tactics as he proceeded to eliminate the next two enemy positions. With the destruction of the third bunker, Specialist Four Erevia had exhausted his supply of hand grenades. Still under intense fire from the fourth position, he courageously charged forward behind the fire emitted by his M-16 rifles. Arriving at the very edge of the bunker, he silenced the occupant within the fortification at point blank range.

Spc. 4 Erevia’s actions that day saved many lives, and “His exemplary performance in the face of overwhelming danger was an inspiration to his entire company and contributed immeasurably to the success of the mission.”

After returning to the states, Erevia, like many veterans who have faced the horrors of warfare, avoided conversation about Vietnam. Wanting to move on, but suffering what would become known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, he said: “I didn’t give it too much thought. You know, you go from day-to-day, do what you’re told.”

After receiving his Medal, Erevia said to a friend: “Don’t be a hero. … Just duck and hit the ground and raise your rifle and shoot toward the enemy. I was put into the situation that I could not get out. I had no recourse other than I was able to fight or I was going to die. But really, if you don’t have to put your life in the hands of God, don’t.”

Sgt. Santiago J. Erevia, your example of valor — an American Patriot defending Liberty for all and your fellow warriors at great risk to yourself — is eternal.

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

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