Below is a story of the awarding of three Silver Stars - two in Iraq and one to fix an administrative error forty years ago.
Green Berets get Silver Stars for actions in Iraq, Vietnam
By Staff Sgt. Kyle Cosner
October 20, 2005
FORT CARSON, Colo. (Army News Service, Oct. 20, 2005) — A trio of Green Berets — two active and one retired — each received the Silver Star during a ceremony here Oct. 14.
Master Sgt. Robert Collins, Sgt. 1st Class Danny Hall and retired 1st Sgt. Cornelius Clark were recognized with the military’s third highest valor award for their gallantry under enemy fire: Collins and Hall for their actions in Iraq this year, and Clark for his heroism in Vietnam in 1965.
Col. Kenneth Tovo, commander of the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) here, said during the ceremony that while any Silver Star presentation is significant, this ceremony was extraordinary.
“Awarded for heroism, the presentation of the Silver Star is always a special event. But today is particularly noteworthy … (because) our ceremony brings together Special Forces heroes past and present.”
Two medals, but one team
Collins and Hall, both of 2nd Battalion, 10th SFG, were deployed to Iraq earlier this year in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
During offensive operations in the country’s Jazeera region in April, both men’s aggressive actions in battle led to the defeat of attacking enemy forces and the survival of their Special Forces detachment, according to their Silver Star citations.
While searching for an anti-Iraqi forces training camp and weapons cache, Collins and Hall’s joint coalition element was engaged by a platoon-sized enemy force with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and grenades. After Collins personally directed close air support from F-16 aircraft armed with 500-pound bombs, Hall led a dismounted charge into small arms fire and RPG volleys.
Collins then led his element to engage the enemy, personally eliminating at least three enemy fighters. In addition to his combat role, Hall — a Special Forces medical sergeant — managed to set up a casualty collection point and a helicopter landing zone to medevac out his wounded troops.
Perhaps Collins and Hall most conspicuously risked their lives when while pinned down by enemy fire, both men ran into a hail of bullets to recover a critically wounded U.S. Soldier. They carried the Soldier to safety, began medical care and saved his life.
Collins acknowledged the personal significance of his Silver Star, but said he feels that the award symbolizes the heroism of his team during its battle with anti-Iraqi forces.
“It’s important, but it’s representative of the efforts of the team, not just my individual effort,” Collins said. He also stressed that in addition to the pride he has in his SF teammates, he was just as proud of the other U.S. and Iraqi forces that fought with them that day in Iraq.
“They fought well and fought hard,” he added.
Tovo said that Collins and Hall’s uncommon valor on the battlefield came as no surprise to him after he learned the details of the battle.
“They epitomize the ideal of bravery that we expect of today’s SF Soldier,” Tovo said.
Long overdue recognition
At the end of his 1965 combat tour in Vietnam while with the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Clark had been awarded an Army Commendation Medal with valor device for his actions in defense of Camp Plei Me, according to his updated award citation.
Then-Staff Sgt. Clark, serving as senior combat engineer for Operational Detachment Alpha 217, helped lead his team’s defense of the camp during a weeklong siege by the North Vietnamese Army. By then, Clark’s tour was finished, and he could have evacuated the camp by helicopter on the sixth day of the siege but chose instead to stay two additional days with his team in the heavy fighting.
Clark then personally led a dangerous mission outside the camp to recover badly-needed airdropped supplies that had missed their mark.
The members of Clark’s former SF team, all of who had received Silver Stars for their own actions during the siege, only recently discovered that Clark had received a lesser award and contacted U.S. Congressman Joel Hefley, whose district includes Fort Carson.
With Hefley’s assistance, as well as the help of William Hybl and William Willoughby, civilian aides to the Secretary of the Army for Colorado and Ohio, respectively, they were able to successfully upgrade Clark’s award to the Silver Star.
“Speaking for members of Detachment A 217, 5th Special Forces Group, this is the completion of a quest to recognize a team member whose actions contributed significantly to the success of the defense of Camp Plei Me 40 years ago,” Willoughby said at the ceremony.
A Green Beret himself, Willoughby joined Clark in Vietnam shortly after the successful efforts to defend the camp. Willoughby was on the Special Forces team that replaced Clark’s.
Differente times, same mission
Tovo said he believes that the standards for a Special Forces Soldier are as high as they have ever been, whether it was 40 years ago in the fight against the spread of Communism, or even 53 years ago, when the 10th SFG was created as the Army’s original Special Forces unit.
He summarized the importance of the three awardees by contrasting the combat situations they found themselves in: Collins and Hall in Iraq’s deserts, and Clark in the jungles of Vietnam. However, his point was not to draw out their differences, but their similarities.
“These three instances of bravery are separated by four decades, earned in action against very different enemies, and under extremely dissimilar circumstances,” Tovo said. “(But) the commonalities are much more striking than the differences.
“Selfless service. Disregarding personal safety to protect one’s comrades. Risking one’s life to attack and defeat our nation’s enemies. These are the hallmarks of all their actions, and they define the very essence of valor.”
“These characteristics of heroism are timeless and universal,” Tovo continued. “A Spartan hoplite, a Roman centurion, an American Continental and a D-Day paratrooper would all recognize, and respect, the action of the men that we decorate today. These qualities run like a common thread through the actions of every hero throughout history. The men who were awarded today epitomize the ideals of the Soldier, and of the warrior.
“It is upon the deeds of men like these that the safety of our nation has, and will always, depend.”
(Editor's note: Staff Sgt. Kyle Cosner works for the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Public Affairs.)