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NEWS | Feb. 26, 2014

Gen. Livingston: American hero, Medal of Honor recipient

By Senior Airman Tom Brading Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

The Medal of Honor is the nation's highest military decoration.

For retired Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston, Charleston, S.C., resident and Medal of Honor recipient, it was never his award to wear. It's about more than him.

"I wear the Medal of Honor for the Marines that died that day (May 2, 1968)," said Livingston. "They represent the highest standard and sacrifice for their country, and it's my honor to represent them."

The Medal of Honor is awarded to U.S. military servicemembers for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty. It is presented by the President of the United States in the name of the Congress.

The medal's lineage dates back to the American Civil War. Since those early roots, often saturated in the blood of fallen servicemembers at the dawn of modern American history, the Medal of Honor has been awarded 3,468 times. Each citation tells a different story of courage and valor, and each story is another reminder of sacrifice written in the pages of American history.

Seventy percent of all Medals of Honor are awarded posthumously, so the opportunity for those brave warriors to share their story is often lost by the hands of fate on the battlefield. But Livingston lived to tell his tale.

A native of McRae, Ga, Livingston left his father's farm and attended The Military College of Georgia and was a member of the school's renowned Corps of Cadets before transferring and finishing his bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Auburn University. In June 1962, Livingston entered the U.S. Marine Corps as a second lieutenant. The Georgia boy was officially a proud officer in the Marines.

As a young officer, Livingston wanted to not only lead his Marines, but wanted to lead them by example .

"I led by example and was always shaved, had my gear in order, and was always in the front of a fight or PT [physical training] run," Livingston, wrote in his autobiography "NOBLE WARRIOR: The Story of Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston, USMC (Ret.), Medal of Honor." "You have to lead from the front . . . anyone can shout orders from the rear, but I would not want to follow such 'leaders' into harm's way."

This lesson in leadership transcended dress and appearance, and carried onto the battle field. After completing his first assignment, deployed to Southeast Asian, out of Camp Pendleton, Livingston took on his second tour of Vietnam as Commanding Officer, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines.

There was no turning back.

"I pushed my Marines hard," said Livingston. "I pushed them mentally. I pushed them physically. And, I pushed them to be ready to fight. I was hard on them because not only was I looking to complete the mission, but I was looking to bring those boys home. As their leader, they relied on me and I relied on them to be combat ready."

Going into the humid jungles of Vietnam with Echo Company, Livingston knew the odds were stacked heavily against the Marines. Echo Company had a nearly 60 percent causality rate prior to Livingston and his men arriving. Livingston brought his high standards to the fight, led from the front and made sure any casualty of war didn't come from lackadaisical leadership or careless training of his Marines.

According to the Medal of Honor citation, on May 2, 1968, Echo Company launched an assault on the heavily fortified village of Dai Do, which had been seized by the enemy on the preceding evening, isolating a Marine company from the remainder of the battalion. Skillfully employing screening agents, (then) Capt. Livingston maneuvered his men to assault positions across 500 meters of dangerous open rice paddy while under intense enemy fire.

"It was very hot, we were sweating, and it was humid that day," said Livingston, thinking back to the battle.

With hostile rounds buzzing all around him, Livingston pushed forward toward the heaviest points of resistance. Fearlessly, he shouted words of encouragement to his fellow Marines, who directed hostile fire .

Hit twice with by grenade fragments, Livingston ignored medical treatment and led his Marines in the destruction of more than 100 mutually supporting bunkers and drove enemy forces from their positions and aided the stranded Marine company.

Unbeknownst to Livingston at the time, the Marines were surrounded and outnumbered. Two other companies stayed behind to evacuate the causalities from the battlefield. Another company passed through friendly lines and launched an assault on an adjacent village of Dihn To, only to be assaulted in a counterattack by a heavily numbered enemy battalion.

Disregarding his own safety, and increasing number of injuries, Livingston charged headfirst into battle, ignoring the heavy volume of enemy fire all around, in order to help the outnumbered Marines. He maneuvered the Marines of Echo Company forward, and remained in the gravely exposed area and joined forces with the heavily engaged Marines to halt the enemy's counter-attack.

Unable to walk, wounded and standing firm in an exposed location, Livingston was able to continue guiding his Marines to safety as they evacuated their casualties and fallen brothers.

"You don't leave any Marines in battle," said Livingston. "They were my responsibility and bringing them home was my mission."

Livingston refused to move from his position until he was assured all of his men were out of battle. Wounded, yet still fearless, he held off enemy forces with his M14 rifle as his men evacuated, and ordered them to leave him behind so he could assure they were safely out of battle. However, two men carried him off the battlefield, living up to their commander's oath: never leave a Marine on the battlefield.

Livingston's military service spanned far longer than that fateful day on May 2, 1968, to include rising to the rank of major general, and eventually becoming the commander of the Marine Reserve Force in 1992, where he commanded more than 100,000 Marines.
Since his retirement from the Corps in 1995, Livingston has remained an active voice for the military; serving as National Co-Chair of the Veterans for Fred Thompson presidential campaign, Board of Trustees of the National World War II Museum and local hero in the Charleston, S.C., community for events involving military appreciation.

"Charleston is a very patriotic community," said Livingston. "They identify with those that serve, and it's a testament to the greatness of the community. And, to those that serve, it's your service and sacrifice that makes this country great."