Written by Kelsey Baker | Originally published by The Jacksonville Daily News
With a new presidential administration focused on correcting historical racial injustices, one wrong that begs for righting on March 25, National Medal of Honor Day, is the absence of a Medal of Honor for Ret. Marine Corps Major James Capers, Jr., a Jacksonville, NC resident and a man who’s been denied the decoration for over fifty years.
Advocates began the push for Capers to receive the Medal of Honor around 2006 for his final mission in Vietnam. Leading his special operations team, Team Broadminded, he saved them when outnumbered 3 to 1 after they were ordered onto “death trap” enemy trails by a far-removed superior officer. Capers recognized that refusing to obey that order could lead to other Marines nearby being killed instead.
With multiple bullet wounds, blood loss and two broken thigh bones, Capers managed to radio in for indirect fire, friendly forces that would bomb the area for their protection. Without his precise coordinates, explosives could have taken out Marines instead of the enemy.
The damaged rescue helicopter held only seven passengers – Team Broadminded had nine wounded Marines and a war dog. Three separate times Capers tried to leave the overloaded chopper to save his men. They wouldn’t have it. The last try, the crew chief held onto him as he hanged off the strut.
These truncated heroics, combined with anecdotes about his assistance to others in opportunities he was denied and his service as the public face of the Marines’ minority recruitment program in 1967, have caused some to insist Capers deserves two Medals of Honor.
Instead, he received the Silver Star — the third highest military honor — in 2010. Then-Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, without explanation, deemed it more appropriate, apparently feeling Capers only displayed “gallantry in action” and not the “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty” required for the top award.
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Author Kelsey Baker is a Marine Corps veteran and a freelance journalist.