MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. -- Retired Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston, a Medal of Honor recipient, toured Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533 and spoke with Marines about Marine aviation, March 14.
During a recent visit to Charleston, S.C., he spoke about the beginnings of his career.
"I wanted to be an engineer; I thought I was going to go on to build bridges," said Livingston. "I got my draft notice in 1961 that said, ‘Boy, you’re coming to see us!’"
Livingston recalls that the recruiter who came to see him promised him two things: that he would be in great physical condition and he would have all the beer he could drink. And with that, Livingston recalls, they had him.
After graduating from Auburn University, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1962.
A year after being promoted to the rank of captain in 1966, he served with the 3rd Marine Division in the Republic of Vietnam in August, 1967.
On May 2, 1968, while serving as the commanding officer of Company "E", 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, his company launched an assault on the heavily fortified village of Dai Do, which had been seized by the enemy on the previous evening, isolating a Marine company from the remainder of the battalion.
According to his Medal of Honor Citation, he maneuvered his men to assault positions across 500 meters of dangerous open rice paddy while under intense enemy fire. Ignoring hostile rounds impacting near him, he fearlessly led his men in a savage assault against enemy emplacements within the village.
While adjusting supporting arms fire, Livingston moved to the points of heaviest resistance, shouted words of encouragement to his Marines, directed their fire, and spurred the dwindling momentum of the attack on repeated occasions. Although wounded twice by grenade fragments, he refused medical treatment and led his men in the destruction of over 100 bunkers, driving the remaining enemy from their positions, and relieving the pressure on the stranded Marine company.
As the two companies consolidated positions and evacuated casualties, a third company passed through the friendly lines launching an assault on the adjacent village of Dinh To, only to be halted by a furious counterattack of an enemy battalion. Swiftly assessing the situation and disregarding the heavy volume of enemy fire, Livingston maneuvered his company forward, joined forces with the rest of the Marines, and halted the enemy’s counterattack.
Wounded a third time and unable to walk, he steadfastly remained in the dangerously exposed area, deployed his men to more tenable positions and supervised the evacuation of casualties. Only when assured of the safety of his men did he allow himself to be evacuated. As a result of his actions, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States.
Of the 3,487 recipients of the Medal of Honor, only 81 are alive today, a number that continues to dwindle.
"You look at the award around my neck, and God bless me, I guess I’m lucky to be here to wear it," said Livingston. "But as every recipient will tell you, I don’t wear this thing for me. I wear it for the Marines who, during my second trip to Vietnam, didn’t come home with me."