This week, we’re saluting a legendary Medal of Honor recipient who recently passed away. Marine Corps Col. Wesley Fox served for 43 years, and if it weren’t for the Korean War, he may not have joined at all.
Fox was born in 1931 in Herndon, Virginia, as the first of his parents’ 10 children. When he was in 8th grade, he quit school and began working full-time at his family’s farm. He had planned to make that his career, but then tensions kicked up in Korea. Since he had watched his cousins go off to fight in World War II, he felt a strong inclination toward serving the country. So in 1950, shortly after the Korean War began, he enlisted in the Marine Corps.
Fox did serve in Korea, but the heroic actions for which he earned the Medal of Honor came during the Vietnam War. In 1969, Fox was a first lieutenant and the commanding officer of Company A, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. The unit was among those fighting in Operation Dewey Canyon, the last major Marine Corps offensive of the war.
On Feb. 22, Fox’s company was in the northern A Shau Valley when they were attacked by machine guns and mortars from a much larger enemy force. Fox said they were deep in the jungle, and it was hard to even see the Marine beside him through the vines, fog and mist, according to an interview he gave that is preserved by the Library of Congress.
Before he and his platoon leaders had a chance to decide how to respond, they were fired upon. Fox was injured, along with all but one other member of the command group.
Fox realized it would be too hard to move the injured men through the dense jungle and head back to safety, so he ordered his company forward to assault the enemy, despite its size. He personally pushed through the gunfire to neutralize one enemy position, called in air support for help, and when his executive officer was killed, he reorganized the company, which eventually destroyed a large bunker complex and forced the enemy into retreat.
During that time, Fox was wounded again, but he again refused medical attention. Instead, he supervised the defense of the area where American crews were preparing to evacuate casualties.
Over the three-month-long operation, Fox’s company suffered 75 percent casualties. But on that day, his actions inspired his troops to win, despite overwhelming odds. Because of that bravery, he earned the Medal of Honor. Fox received it from President Richard Nixon during a group ceremony on March 2, 1971.
In the decades since, Fox has insisted that his actions weren’t the only ones deserving of the medal that day.
“I won’t kid anybody,” he said in the Library of Congress interview. “It’s not for any one thing that I did – it’s what we did as a team.”
Fox retired in 1993 at the mandatory retirement age of 62. He worked for several years after that at the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets and continued to speak about his military experience for the rest of his life.
Fox died Nov. 24, the day after Thanksgiving. He was 86.
Semper Fidelis, Colonel Fox!
By Katie Lange