May 29, 2008

‘True Hero’ Helps Community Commemorate Memorial Day

Memorial Day is about remembering those that died serving this country. Leon Buford has plenty to remember.

The featured speaker at the 62nd Annual Memorial Day in Memphis spoke about honoring all of the servicemen and women, something he has done on a personal level since returning from Vietnam 40 years ago.

“Every time I hear about a soldier dying or read about another casualty of war, it brings it all back to me,” Buford told the audience at the service. “That is what Memorial Day is about… remembering.”

The former front line medic was referring to his comrades in the 9th Infantry Division of the United States Army.

On April 15th, 1967 near Tan An, Vietnam, Buford’s company was ambushed by a far numerically superior Viet Cong Force. On that day Buford distinguished himself, earning both a Purple Heart as well as a Silver Star.

But the veteran doesn’t talk about his honors when referring to that day. Instead he focuses on those that he still honors today.

“We started out that day with 120 in our company,” Buford told the crowd. “When it was all over there was just 40 of us left, the rest were either killed or injured badly enough to be sent home. You don’t forget those days.”

The United States Army did not forget Buford’s actions. He earned the Silver Star, the third highest award exclusively for combat valor and the highest award for combat valor that is not unique to any specific branch of the service.

Judge Gary Dial, who introduced Buford at the service, noted that “a true hero” received an honor that is estimated to have been given to no more than 150,000 other servicemen and women. He pointed out that number initially might seem large, but only until one considers the more than 30 million American men and women who have served in uniform during times of conflict.

“It is obvious that the Silver Star is a rare award,” Dial told the crowd. “Those who know Leon, know he is a humble and modest man. He is certainly not one to brag on himself. So I am going to take a moment to do a little bragging for him”

The judge then read from Buford’s citation order given by Colonel M.W. Kendall.

“For gallantry in action while engaged in military operations against an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam, Private First Class Buford distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 15 April 1967 while serving as Medical Corpsman for his unit when they were ambushed…

“During the initial heavy volume of fire, Private Buford exposed himself repeatedly to heavy fire in order to treat the wounded. Seeing one man fall, Private Buford crawled several meters through a barrage of fire to reach the casualty. He reached the fallen comrade, and began to give the victim mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, exposing himself to an even greater extent. Another hostile round fell near him, wounding him painfully and throwing him to the ground. He refused medical evacuation in site of the seriousness of his injury, reasoning that he was needed badly in the field.”

The assistant pastor at the Pentecostal Church told the audience he is certain that it was their prayers that helped bring him home.

“I received a Bible from my friends and family in Gorin, one they had all signed before they sent it to me,” he said. “Their prayers are why I am still here, why I am standing here today.”

Buford asked the crowd not only to honor those that have given their lives, but also to keep today’s servicemen and women in our prayers so that they too can come home.

Leon Buford is a Gorin native and a 1964 graduate of Gorin High School. He was inducted into the United States Army in 1966, interrupting his career in nursing. Following his two years of service, he returned home, where he married Hazel in 1969. The couple has five children, one foster daughter and 13 grandchildren.

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