ABC’s Jordyn Phelps and Sunlen Miller report:
President Obama honored a military unit that fought in the Vietnam War with the highest presidential honor to a military unit during an event in the Rose Garden today.
The Presidential Unit Citation was awarded to the Alpha Troop, First Squadron, 11th Armored Calvary Regiment for its demonstration of "gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps in accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions," the President said.
The award has been given about 100 times since its creation during World War II.
The unit received the honor, which the President called overdue, for its participation in a battle during the Vietnam War that remains unnamed. 86 of the unit’s soldiers were present in the Rose Garden today, many of whom wore their military medals and uniforms.
The overdue recognition was brought about in part because of the efforts of John Poindexter, the since retired captain of the Alpha Troop. Over the years, Poindexter tracked down the soldiers, gathered their stories and filed reports for them to receive Silver Stars and Bronze Stars for their involvement in the battle.
“I cannot imagine a more fitting tribute to these men, who fought in what came to be called The Anonymous Battle,” Obama said. “Troopers, you are not anonymous anymore.”
The Anonymous Battle of which the President spoke occurred in March 1970. During the battle, the 11th Armored Calvary came to the rescue of another unit that was outnumbered nearly 4-to-1 against enemy troops.
President Obama described the battle as a story of resolve.
“For Alpha Troop could have simply evacuated their comrades and left that enemy bunker for another day — to ambush another American unit,” the President said. “But as their captain said, ‘That's not what the 11th Cavalry does.’”
President Obama said that although the battle did not change the course of the war, it deserves recognition.
“It never had a name, like Tet or Hue or Khe Sanh,” Obama said. “It never made the papers back home. But like countless battles, known and unknown, it is a proud chapter in the story of the American soldier.”
Though the battle occurred nearly 40 years ago, President Obama said the award stands as a present-day reminder to the debt that the United States has to its veterans.
“We have an obligation to all who served in the jungles of Vietnam,” the President said. “Our Vietnam vets answered their country's call and served with honor.”
The President added that this obligation has not always been properly honored.
“One of the saddest episodes in American history was the fact that these vets were often shunned and neglected, even demonized when they came home,” President Obama said. “That was a national disgrace. And on days such as this, we resolve to never let it happen again.”
As the President is contemplating U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, the President pointed out that Tuesday’s award stood as an example of the responsibilities that accompany war.
–Jordyn Phelps and Sunlen Miller