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John J. McGinty III, Vietnam veteran who received the Medal of Honor, dies at 73

John J. McGinty III, a retired Marine Corps captain who received the Medal of Honor for his efforts to lead, protect and rally his outnumbered platoon during an assault in a jungle in Vietnam, died Jan. 17 at his home in Beaufort, S.C. He was 73.

The cause was bone cancer, said his son Michael McGinty.

Capt. McGinty was awarded the nation’s highest military decoration for valor during a battle in the summer of 1966. On July 15, then a staff sergeant, he helicoptered with his battalion into a location near the demilitarized zone where the men expected to find Vietcong guerrillas. Instead, they were met with a full regiment of the North Vietnamese army.

The Americans took control of an enemy hospital and endured two more days of battle before receiving an order to withdraw, according to the book “Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty.” Capt. McGinty’s platoon was tasked with protecting the men from the rear as they destroyed downed U.S. helicopters and made their way out.

In the ensuing four-hour battle, Capt. McGinty displayed “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty,” according to his medal citation.

John J. McGinty III, who received the Medal of Honor for his heroism in Vietnam, died Jan. 17 at his home in Beaufort, S.C. He was 73. (Courtesy of Congressional Medal of Honor Society)

His platoon came under attack from small arms, automatic weapons and mortar fire. Capt. McGinty rushed through the barrage to reach two squads that had been cut off. The medical corpsman was dead. Twenty of his comrades were wounded. Capt. McGinty reloaded their weapons and helped them go on fighting.

He, too, had been hurt but continued leading a relentless assault. At one point, according to the citation, he killed five enemy troops at point-blank range with his pistol.

When the enemy seemed to revive, Capt. McGinty called in artillery and airstrikes within 50 yards of his location — a move that was said to have “routed” the North Vietnamese, whose losses numbered 500.

His “personal heroism, indomitable leadership, selfless devotion to duty, and bold fighting spirit inspired his men to resist the repeated attacks by a fanatical enemy, reflected great credit upon himself, and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the U.S. Naval Service,” reads the citation for the award, which he received from President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968.

John James McGinty III was born Jan. 21, 1940, in Boston, and spent parts of his youth in Connecticut and Kentucky. He joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 1957 after graduating from high school. He had been enticed by the Navy slogan “Join the Navy and See the World” but preferred the Marine Corps uniform.

Capt. McGinty’s injuries in Vietnam led to the loss of his left eye, his son said. Besides the Medal of Honor, his decorations including the Purple Heart.

He served as a drill instructor at Parris Island, S.C., and worked after his two-decade military career in administrative positions at the Department of Veterans Affairs and its predecessor agency, the Veterans Administration.

Capt. McGinty’s wife of more than 30 years, Elaine Hathaway McGinty, died in 1991. Survivors include two sons, Michael McGinty of Beaufort and John J. McGinty IV of Tennessee.

After his service in Vietnam, Capt. McGinty developed what his son described as a deep conservative Christian faith. He distanced himself from wearing his medal — although he continued to take pride in its significance — because it bears the image of the Roman goddess Minerva.

“If the Marine Corps taught me anything, it was how to follow orders, and now that I’m a Christian I follow God’s orders — the Ten Commandments,” Capt. McGinty told the Associated Press in 1984. “The medal is a form of idolatry because it has a false god on it.”

Capt. McGinty recalled that, having not yet found his faith, he did not pray in Vietnam.

“But I thought, ‘If there is a God, please let him watch out for my children,’ ” he said. “I thought I was going to die for sure.”

Emily Langer is a reporter on The Washington Post’s obituaries desk. She has written about national and world leaders, celebrated figures in science and the arts, and heroes from all walks of life.


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