Richard E. Bogan was a U.S. private first class, when he received the Navy Cross after jumping on a hand grenade in what was then the Republic of South Korea’s Thua Thien Province. The Navy Cross is the second-highest decoration for heroism awarded by the U.S. Navy and the . It is presented only for extraordinary valor in combat.
Bogan, a 1967 graduate of Lebanon High School, was 41 when he died in a single-car crash in December 1990.
Now, Gerry Regan, a Marine who was there when Bogan jumped on that grenade, is working to have the Navy Cross award replaced — with the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor.
Regan is recently retired, but has been active in organizations since he was discharged from the Corps following his service in Vietnam. He is a former president of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines branch of the 1stMarine Division Association.
Nikki Baldwin, Bogan’s daughter, met Regan in 2008 at a reunion, she said recently. She is appreciative of Regan’s efforts to earn the Medal for her father.
She provided The Lebanon Reporter a copy of a letter that could be critical evidence in Regan’s efforts, as well as other documents about her father’s service.
Regan said he and Bogan were attached to Company C, 1/5 Marines, when they encountered enemy units near the village of Thon Ha Vinh on April 12, 1968.
“He jumped on a hand grenade: It turned out to be a dud,” Regan said. Soon a second grenade landed among the Marines. Bogan jumped on that grenade, which exploded beneath him.
“He had the presence of mind, because he was wearing a flak jacket, to lie on the grenade on his side,” Regan said. That afforded greater protection and is likely why Bogan was not killed by the explosion.
“I saw him in the hospital after he jumped on the grenades,” Regan said. “He had metal fragments in every part of his body. They stabilized him, and it wasn’t long before he was sent back to the states.”
The criteria to award a Medal of Honor requires conspicuous “gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life” through “an act so outstanding that it clearly distinguishes their gallantry beyond the call of duty from lesser forms of bravery.”
Regan believes that leaping on two hand grenades, much less one, was clearly such “an act so outstanding.”
Bogan’s Navy Cross citation states that two grenades were thrown, but the first one “exploded harmlessly.”
The citation continues: “Almost immediately, another grenade impacted extremely close to Corporal Bogan and a companion. Disregarding his own safety, he shouted a warning to his comrade and unhesitatingly jumped on top of the missile, absorbing the blast with his body.”
The platoon sergeant wrote up a Medal of Honor commendation for Bogan, Regan said. But the company commander refused to endorse that award, he said.
“It has bothered me ever since,” Regan said. “To me, that has always been a Medal of Honor action.”
Regan decided to act after learning that President Obama in June 2015 had awarded Medals of Honor posthumously to two World War I soldiers.
He wrote the president, describing Bogan’s heroism and voicing his opinion that the act deserved the Medal of Honor.
“It took them nine months to reply,” Regan said. “They told me they had researched the information.” That is when Regan discovered that the captain had claimed the first grenade did not cause any injuries. “That made it sound more like a Navy Cross than a Medal of Honor,” Regan said.
Once he gathers the information he needs, Regan will ask the Navy Department’s Board of Decoration and Medals to reconsider Bogan’s Navy Cross and upgrade it to the Medal of Honor.
“I spoke to the top sergeant who wrote up the citation,” Regan said. “He was equally troubled.” That Marine, 1st SGT Carl. L. Stanford, died last year, he said.
But Stanford wrote a letter to the Military Awards Branch, questioning why Bogan did not receive the ultimate award for bravery. “Being the 1st sgt. of C-1-5 at the time that this action took place and knowing that PFC Bogan was written for the Medal of Honor I question the fact that it was downgraded to the Navy Cross,” Stanford wrote.
Regan did not identify the company commander by name. He said only that his unit had “a new captain who refused to sign the Medal of Honor citation for two reasons” — that Medal of Honor recipients “die in their act of valor,” and that “a Marine displaying extraordinary valor was just a Marine doing his job.”
That reasoning to deny a Medal of Honor was, to Regan, not reasoning at all.
What also bothers Regan is that the captain who apparently down-graded Bogan’s award appears to have doctored the citation, to make it appear that the first grenade exploded and injured no one. Grenades used by the North Vietnamese were made in the Soviet Union and China, Regan said. Duds were not uncommon, he said.
Bogan is believed to be the only Marine injured that night, which would be further proof that the first grenade did not explode, Regan said. He has asked the Army War College for information about North Vietnamese grenades and their failure rates.
Regan is also seeking to hear from other Marines who were present during the incident.
“I’ve got to be able to prove the citation was doctored,” Regan said. “That’s what I’m doing about the hand grenades.”
Bogan was wounded again as Marines drove him to a battalion aid station, Nikki Baldwin said.
On Aug. 16 this year, Baldwin heard from former Marine officer and author Nicholas Warr, who had been a platoon commander the night of April 12, 1968, and who told Baldwin in a letter that, “Your father literally put his life on the line for his buddies, and it’s still hard for me to understand how he survived that night.” A Navy corpsman told Warr that Bogan was unlikely to survive the night without immediate medevac. No helicopters could fly because of the weather, though, so Marines volunteered to drive a Jeep carrying the wounded Bogan five kilometers to a battalion aid station. On the way, they were ambushed and Bogan was blown off the back of the Jeep. The driver died and several Marines were hurt, Warr wrote.
“Our company commander was finally able to convince some Marine helicopter pilot to take a chance and they were finally able to get Richard to the BAS and the critically needed medical support he needed to survive,” Warr wrote.
Warr has written two books, “Phase Line Green: The Battle for Hue, 1968,” and “Charlie One Five: A Marine Company’s Vietnam War,” a prequel to the first. He is writing a third, “Charlie One Five: The Final Years In Country,” in which he plans to describe Bogan’s heroism.
U.S. records obtained through the Texas Tech University’s Virtual Vietnam Archive indicate that the day of Bogan’s heroic act, Company C was commanded by Capt. J. P. Caynak.
Caynak assumed command of the unit on March 31, 1968, and was commander through Nov. 3, 1968. According to military and other records, Caynak retired from the in 1985 as a lieutenant colonel. He was awarded the Bronze Star and the Navy Commendation Medal, both with combat V.
Bogan would become the only Marine from Indiana, and only the second Hoosier, to have received the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam war. U.S. Army Sgt. Sammy L. Davis, Indianapolis, received the Medal of Honor for gallantry on Nov. 18,1967.
Of the 489 Navy Crosses awarded during Vietnam, Marines received 360; 139 of them were posthumous awards. Fifty-seven marines were awarded the Medal of Honor during Vietnam; 44 were posthumous awards.
Upgrading awards for valor is rare but not uncommon. In March 2014, following a review of 24 Distinguished Service Crosses awarded in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, President Obama awarded Medals of Honor to eight individuals for actions during Vietnam.
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