This is the ninth in a 10-part series that began on July 2 and takes a closer look at Richland County’s eight Medal of Honor winners. Coming Tuesday: Does a Richland County hero lie in unmarked Kentucky grave?
This series is supported by Mansfield Cemetery Association.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” — John 15:13
MANSFIELD — U.S. Army PFC David Winder didn’t carry a gun in Vietnam.
The 23-year-old Mansfield man — a medic assigned to a combat unit — instead carried a heart and love for his comrades-in-arms that far outstripped pure weapons of war.
The compassion found in the son of a Presbyterian minister earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor on May 13, 1970 — the eighth soldier from Richland County to receive the award and the first since the Indian Campaigns almost a century before.
It also cost the Malabar High School graduate his life.
Born in Edinboro, Penn., in 1946, Winder was reportedly a pacifist who considered going to Canada to avoid the controversial conflict in southeast Asia. Instead, he accepted the call and was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1969 through Columbus.
Assigned to Company A, 3rd Battalion, 1st Infantry, 11th Infantry Brigade as a corpsman, Winder’s job was to take care of the soldiers in his platoon when he arrived for his year-long tour in November.
(Click above to listen to today’s accompanying podcast. You may also listen to the first eight episodes of this podcast series.)
A combat medic in Vietnam was far more a “first responder.”
Certainly, the medic’s primary job was to save a soldier wounded by bullets, rockets, grenades and land mines in the field until a medical helicopter could airlift them to medical facilities in the rear.
But the combat medic was far more than someone who tried to stop the bleeding when a soldier was wounded, applied a splint to a fractured limb or made sure his injured comrade has a working airway.
Like all medics, Winder was also his platoon’s unofficial psychologist, helping young men deal with the trauma and suffering they saw on a daily basis.
In a story found at “Combat Medicine in the Vietnam War,” medic Mike Clark described the role this way:
“And it was just constant: trying to get somebody through that time and making sure that they weren’t alone; that they had somebody there; that we were talking with them — each other — and working through the nightmare that they’d just experienced.”
Medics would also provide medical treatment for Vietnamese villages the troops encountered, part of the attempt to win the “hearts and minds” of the people of Vietnam.
It was dangerous duty. According to the website 1st Cav Medic, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall lists 2,096 Army medics and Navy corpsmen, who work with Marine combat units.
A combat medic’s bag in Vietnam may have contained gloves, mask (or other eye protection), trauma scissors, tourniquets, chest decompression kit, trauma dressings, hemostatic dressings, open chest seals, pain meds, “foot rot powder” and other necessities the “docs” found valuable.
In May of 1970, about halfway through his scheduled deployment, Winder’s unit was assigned to Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam, on the south central coast of the country.
The unit was on a so-called “search and destroy” mission.
In Vietnam, Gen. William Westmoreland’s strategy was to fight a war of attrition. He called it “search and destroy.” American forces would search out the enemy, make contact, and then, with superior numbers and firepower, destroy him.
As it crossed open terrain of freshly cut rice paddies in search of a suspected company-sized enemy force, Winder’s unit was ambushed by a large North Vietnamese force.
Intense automatic weapon fire and rocket-propelled grenades rained down from a well-entrenched enemy force.
Several U.S. soldiers were wounded in the initial contact and the troops were quickly pinned down.
“Doc” Winder instantly went into action, reacting to the cries of his wounded comrades. He began to maneuver across a distance greater than a football field of open, bullet-swept terrain toward the nearest casualty.
According to his Medal of Honor citation:
“Unarmed and crawling most of the distance, he was wounded by enemy fire before reaching his comrades. Despite his wounds and with great effort, Pfc. Winder reached the first casualty and administered medical aid.
“As he continued to crawl across the open terrain toward a second wounded soldier he was forced to stop when wounded a second time.
“Aroused by the cries of an injured comrade for aid, Pfc. Winder’s great determination and sense of duty impelled him to move forward once again, despite his wounds, in a courageous attempt to reach and assist the injured man.
“After struggling to within 10 meters of the man, Pfc. Winder was mortally wounded. His dedication and sacrifice inspired his unit to initiate an aggressive counterassault which led to the defeat of the enemy.
‘Pfc. Winder’s conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the cost of his life were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the U.S. Army.”
Winder received his award posthumously in Washington, D.C., on July 17, 1974. It was presented to his family by then-U.S. Vice President Gerald R. Ford in the courtyard of the Blair House.
It’s fitting that Winder’s devotion to caring for his fellow soldiers is still recognized today through at least two medical facilities.
Both the Winder Troop Medical Clinic at Fort Benning, Ga., and the David F. Winder Department of Veterans Affairs Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Mansfield are named after him.
Winder is buried at Mansfield Memorial Park.
(Coming Tuesday: Bellville native John Rowalt earned a Congressional Medal of Honor. But he is buried in an unmarked grave in northern Kentucky.)
Previously in this series: