South Dakota Medal of Honor recipient honored others by continuing to serve

Vietnam Veteran threw himself on an explosive charge to save his buddies, survived and continued to fight



When most people think about the Medal of Honor, images from Hollywood action films often come to mind and those larger-than-life heroes written for the silver screen.  But in reality, most of those who earned the medal are more like Clark Kent than Rambo – seemingly ordinary people who have accomplished extraordinary acts.

Michael “Mike” Fitzmaurice, born 1950 in Jamestown, North Dakota, is one of these people. He did not want to go to college and joined the Army out of family tradition more than anything else.  He enlisted with some buddies at the height of the Vietnam War and later found himself in Khe Sanh, Vietnam.

When he landed, he thought he was going to have it made, but that fantasy was short lived. Reality reared its ugly head and reminded Fitzmaurice that war is no picnic –  it’s hell.  His Medal of Honor citation sums up the portion of it in which he fought and bled. It reads:

SPECIALIST FOUR MICHAEL J. FITZMAURICE
UNITED STATES ARMY

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Specialist Four Michael J. Fitzmaurice, 3rd Platoon, Troop D, 2d Squadron, 17th Cavalry, 101st Airborne Division, distinguished himself on 23 March 1971 at Khe Sanh, Republic of Vietnam. Specialist Fitzmaurice and three fellow-soldiers were occupying a bunker when a company of North Vietnamese sappers infiltrated the area. At the onset of the attack Specialist Fitzmaurice observed three explosive charges which had been thrown into the bunker by the enemy. Realizing the imminent danger to his comrades, and with complete disregard for his personal safety, he hurled two of the charges out of the bunker. He then threw his flak vest and himself over the remaining charge. By this courageous act he absorbed the blast and shielded his fellow-soldiers. Although suffering from serious multiple wounds and partial loss of sight, he charged out of the bunker and engaged the enemy until his rifle was damaged by the blast of an enemy hand grenade. While in search of another weapon, Specialist Fitzmaurice encountered and overcame an enemy sapper in hand-to-hand combat. Having obtained another weapon, he returned to his original fighting position and inflicted additional casualties on the attacking enemy. Although seriously wounded, Specialist Fitzmaurice refused to be medically evacuated, preferring to remain at his post. Specialist Fitzmaurice’s conspicuous gallantry, extraordinary heroism, and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life contributed significantly to the successful defense of the position and resulted in saving the lives of a number of his fellow-soldiers. These acts of heroism go above and beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflect great credit on Specialist Four Fitzmaurice and the United States Army.

His actions that day speak volumes to his intestinal fortitude, tenacity and devotion to his fellow soldiers.

Since then, Mike has led a relatively quiet life, but he has continued to serve —  finishing out his Army career with the South Dakota National Guard and also working for VA as a plumber from 1987 until his retirement in 2011.

If you have ever visited the VA Medical Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, you may have passed Mike in the hallway during one of his volunteer shifts, or sat across from him waiting for an appointment.

Mike is a humble man who is always willing to lend a hand. He thinks a lot of his fellow Veterans and they in turn think a lot of him and so does the state of South Dakota – they named the State Veterans Home in his honor.

The Sioux Falls VA Health Care System is proud and honored to have had Michael J. Fitzmaurice (as well as his wife Patty) as members of the VA team.

Thank you for your service, Mike.

Author

Gary Hicks

is the Director of VA’s Office of Digital Media Engagement. He is a former managing editor of a daily newspaper and a Veteran of the U.S. Army. Gary’s wife is a senior master sergeant stationed at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.

Comments

  1. Robert Bostic    

    Thank you for your service Mr. Fitzmaurice and for going above and beyond the call of duty.

  2. Michael Claytor    

    Michael, you are a true hero! Well beyond the call of duty. Your current dedication to serving as a volunteer speeks volumes of your character and honor. May the peace of Christ be with you.
    I am a Vietnam vet 1966-1967 Long Bien, near Bien Hoa airbase

  3. G. Burns, HMC, USN/USMC (ret)    

    Thank you for your service Mike and Welcome Home. You are a shining example of American Courage.

  4. Donald A. Powers    

    Thanks for your exemplary combat achievements. You are a role model to all of us who served and did not serve.

  5. JERRY D. PITTMAN    

    I WISH THOSE PROTESTERS IN THE STREET WERE LIKE YOU A GOOD AMERICAN !
    I VOTED FOR TRUMP !
    HILLARY IS CROOKED , I HOPE TRUMP PUT HER IN JAIL !
    OBAMA WILL GIVE HER A PARDON TOO BAD !

  6. Stephen Atwood    

    Thank you very much for your service and ongoing giving of yourself to others. I was there in 1969. You are truly an inspiration?

  7. Jerome Trombley    

    Welcome home Mike… You have a special place in the heart of any brother or sister that has served. Happy trails…

  8. MARK D WILLIAMS    

    MICHAEL,

    I too am a Retired ARMY Veteran who truly appreciates your Service and Sacrifice .

    Soldiers like you make me proud to be an American!

    May GOD Always Bless You and Yours.

    Respectfully,
    -1SG Mark Williams
    USA (RET )

  9. manuel torres    

    Thank you very much for what you did. As I read what you did, chills went up my spine and I started crying. in my thoughts, I saw you fighting and fighting, not taking no for an answer. to you Sir, I owe you a lot. although I spent 42 years in the Army to include Nam I can imagine what you did. It is because of you and those troopers like you that make the Army great and this nation. Indeed, you are an inspiration to our youth, old timers like me. Sir, I am out of words and am emotional and all I can think of is you doing what you did. May God bless American and you. thanx….Col Manny Torres.. p.s. proud to have been enlisted from 1956 – 1970.

  10. Carolyn    

    Is he from North Dakota or South Dakota?

    1. Gary Hicks    

      He was born in North Dakota, but lives in South Dakota.

  11. Richard J Santini    

    Thank you for your service above and beyond the call of duty. Happy Veterans Day brother.

  12. Kevin Goodwin    

    An amazing true-life story of an amazing man…Specialist Four Michael J. Fitzmaurice… A True American Hero! God Bless You Sir!!

  13. william wessels    

    God bless you Sir and I thank you deeply from the bottom of my heart for your service, welcome home. I too am a Vietnam vet 1967/1968/and short time 1969. You are truly an inspiration to us all.

  14. Jerome Rodgers    

    Unbelievable! Specialist Four Michael J. Fitzmaurice is amazing man. I am in awe and I truly hope the American people can learn to be more appreciative of the exceptional military men and women like Specialist Fitzmaurice and thousands of others that are serving or served, especially those that made the ultimate sacrifice. Specialist Fitzmaurice’s heroism reminds me of another Vietnam Medal of Honor warrior: – then Staff Sergeant Allan J. Kellogg who retired as a Sergeant Major. I had the distinct pleasure and honor of serving with Sergeant Major Kellogg at Marine Barracks Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Sergeant Major Kellogg is only the second Marine awarded a Medal of Honor to be promoted to Sergeant Major. The other Marine is Sergeant Major Daniel Daly who twice earned the Medal of Honor. That is very elite company! Happy Veterans day to my fellow veterans, especially our heroes! Semper fi!

  15. Mike Jarrett    

    Dear Mike, I want to Thank You for your service which was absolutely above and beyond !!

    Sincerely,

    MIke Jarrett79A2 79A2

  16. Gary L Cross    

    Thank you for your service and your dedication to your fellow soldier! It’s extraordinary people like you that keep my faith in this Country alive! I too served, in the US Air Force and feel the love for my Country! You Sir are a true HERO. I get choked up just reading your story and in replying.

  17. Eliot Howell    

    Michael, may God bless you for your patriotic actions and for saving of American lives. You sir, are a true hero…not the celebrities or the political elite that garner all the attention.

    1. Zenoba L. Powell    

      Thank GOD For Your Protection and Testimonies…Please keep me in prayer, as I am hopeful to become a VA-Military Clinical Chaplain…I am so honored and grateful for God’s Calling on My Life…Stay Strong and Keep The Faith !!!!

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