Marine Receives Navy Cross for Actions in Vietnam War

WASHINGTON, Feb. 11, 2011 — Near­ly 45 years after he saved almost an entire com­pa­ny of fel­low Marines in Viet­nam, a Marine Corps vet­er­an was for­mal­ly rec­og­nized today for his actions.
Navy Sec­re­tary Ray Mabus pre­sent­ed Ned E. Seath with the Navy Cross — the sec­ond-high­est award a Marine can receive for val­or — in a cer­e­mo­ny at the Nation­al Muse­um of the Marine Corps in Quan­ti­co, Va.

Bronze Star with
Navy Sec­re­tary Ray Mabus presents the Navy Cross to Ned E. Seath at the Nation­al Muse­um of the Marine Corps in Quan­ti­co, Va., Feb. 11, 2011. Seath also received a Bronze Star with “V” for val­or from actions in 1966 dur­ing the Viet­nam War on the night before the actions that earned him the Navy Cross.
U.S. Marine Corps pho­to by Lance Cpl. Christofer P. Baines
Click to enlarge

Then a lance cor­po­ral, Seath was serv­ing as a machine gun team leader with the 3rd Marine Division’s Com­pa­ny K, 3rd Bat­tal­ion, 4th Marine Reg­i­ment, when he halt­ed an assault of North Viet­namese sol­diers July 16, 1966, using an M-60 machine gun he reassem­bled from spare parts. But his sto­ry of hero­ism was tucked away when his ser­vice in the Marine Corps end­ed.

Sev­en years ago, his sto­ry resur­faced dur­ing a bat­tal­ion reunion, lead­ing to a move­ment start­ed by Bill Hut­ton, who served with Seath, to rec­og­nize Seath’s hero­ism.

“All I could think was they’re going to be over­run us and they were going to kill us all,” Seath said. “I had Hut­ton and Ben­nett on my flanks with fixed bay­o­nets hold­ing them off. They gave me a good two more min­utes to make one good gun.”

His unit, one of the four Marine bat­tal­ions in Task Force Delta, was called into action to sup­port Oper­a­tion Hast­ings, an effort to push the a North Viet­namese army divi­sion out of South Vietnam’s Quang Tri province. The company’s mis­sion was to estab­lish a block­ing posi­tion in the mid­dle of an ene­my trail net­work.

Led by pla­toon com­man­der David Rich­wine, now a retired major gen­er­al, Seath’s role was to pro­vide machine-gun fire to aid in dis­rupt­ing North Viet­namese army activ­i­ty in the area. After land­ing, Seath’s com­pa­ny soon came upon a rein­forced ene­my pla­toon wait­ing for the Marines in a defen­sive posi­tion.

Dur­ing the ensu­ing onslaught, Seath moved to obtain a dis­abled machine gun from a wound­ed Marine near­by, build­ing an oper­a­tional M-60 machine gun out of two inop­er­a­tive weapons, and he quick­ly returned dev­as­tat­ing­ly accu­rate fire to the oncom­ing ene­my.

One of the weapons sim­ply mal­func­tioned, Seath said, while anoth­er fire team a few fight­ing posi­tions away could pro­vide only semi-auto­mat­ic fire. He pulled out a clean pon­cho, grabbed some grease and a brush, and went to work on the two weapons to craft the one the Marines so des­per­ate­ly need­ed.

Rich­wine said Seath began lay­ing down machine-gun fire in the prone posi­tion. As his field of fire became obstruct­ed by ene­my casu­al­ties, he com­plete­ly dis­re­gard­ed his safe­ty as he knelt at first and even­tu­al­ly stood up, ful­ly exposed to ene­my fire, to con­tin­ue repelling the enemy’s advance.

“Every­one was fight­ing for their lives,” Rich­wine said, not­ing that the advanc­ing ene­my was clos­ing in. “Sev­er­al Marines even had affixed bay­o­nets. Seath was pro­vid­ing well-aimed, dis­ci­plined machine-gun fire, which ulti­mate­ly killed their attack. It was a com­bined effort stop­ping the ene­my, but Seath was the guy with the tool to do the job best -– all while in the dark.”

All that illu­mi­nat­ed the sky that night was spo­radic flairs from pass­ing air­craft, but what lit the bat­tle­field was the trac­er rounds — red streaks from the Marines and green streaks from the North Viet­namese army, Rich­wine said.

“If it weren’t for Ned Seath, I’d be buried right now … in Arling­ton [Nation­al Ceme­tery],” said Hut­ton, who fought along­side Seath dur­ing that bat­tle. “We were sur­round­ed and out­num­bered. But Ned didn’t quit. He went above and beyond the call of duty. He saved a com­pa­ny of Marines.”

By this night, only the sec­ond night of the oper­a­tion, Seath was very famil­iar of the pos­si­bil­i­ty of dying on the bat­tle­field for the sake of his fel­low Marines. Just 24 hours ear­li­er, he had rushed to the aid of two wound­ed Marines under heavy machine-gun fire that already had claimed the lives of two Marines, and dragged them to safe­ty. For these actions, he received the Bronze Star Medal with a “V” device for val­or, which was pre­sent­ed along with his Navy Cross.

“What Ned went through — what he did — is emblem­at­ic of the Marine Corps,” Mabus said. “This is one of the biggest hon­ors I have. Ned Seath is a hero.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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