Roy Mitchell Wheat, KIA August 11, 1967.
Born and raised in rural Mississipi, Roy Wheat (shown here in a 1966-67 photo) was typical of many of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who served their country and madr the ultimate sacrifice.
Slender Mississippian Roy Wheat believed in what he was doing, and what his country was doing, when he arrived in Vietnam in March 1967. He was assigned to the 1st Marine Division as a rifleman (Courtesy of Phil Hearn).
Roy Wheat's parents, J.C. and Stella Wheat, receive the Medal of HOnor awarded to their son posthumously in 1968 for his sacrifice while leading a security team on August 11.
Also attending the Medal of Honor ceremony were Marines Vernon Sorenson (left) and Bernard Cannon, whose lives were saved by Wheat's actions.

Article written by Phil Hearn, published in the magazine "VIETNAM" - website

'You NEVER KNOW Until You TRY'

Marine Lance Corporal Roy Wheat, a Mississippian who earned the Medal Of Honor in Vietnam, was a common soldier but an uncommon man.

During the course of one year in the mid-1960's, Roy Mitchell Wheat went from sacking groceries in a small Southern town to a hero's death in the blood-soaked battlefields of South Vietnam. Wheat was barely 20 years old when he died fighting on August 11, 1967. By hurling his body onto an anti-personnel mine that he had accidentally triggered, he saved two fellow Marines from certain injury and possible death

Although a common soldier, Wheat was not a common man. Twice wounded before he was killed, he had already shown remarkable courage under fire. Despite the fact that history eventually may judge the Vietnam War as ill-founded, Roy Wheat did not choose to reason why. He chose to do-and died.

Roy was the eldest of four sons of hard-working, churchgoing, loving parents-J.C. and Stella Wheat. Roy and his brothers grew up near the sleepy community of Moselle in Jones County, Mississippi. His home was located along State Highway 11, about two miles south of town. J.C. did some farming and worked for the county as a heavy-equipment operator. Stella supplemented the family income by working as a seamstress at a nearby garment plant.

Roy and his younger brothers Dale, Wayne and John grew up in the country. Between attending school and church and doing chores around the family place, Roy hunted in the surrounding woods and became adept with firearms.

"He couldn't have been more than 10 when he'd go hunt half the night in the woods by himself," his father remembered in a 1968 newspaper interview.  "I can see him with that little old .410 sliding quiet, not a whisper," in pursuit of game.  "He never had a scared bone in his body-but he would dodge you to keep from hurting you."

While Roy was getting his early education at Moselle Attendance Center in 1954, the North Vietnamese under Ho Chi Minh and General Vo Nguyen Giap were ending French domination of Vietnam at Dien Bien Phu.  Four years before Wheat finished the eighth grade in 1963, America had experienced its first combat death in Vietnam.  By the time South Vietnam's President Ngo Dinh Diem was overthrown and assassinated in an American-orchestrated coup the following November (the same month President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, Texas), Wheat already was attending South Jones High School at nearby Ellisville.  After dropping out of high school in 1965, Wheat found a job bagging groceries at the Winn-Dixie supermarket in Hattiesburg, a larger city two hours north of New Orleans.

"I don't know how to explain it about Roy, but it seemed he wanted to help everybody," his mother said in 1968.  "That sounds funny for a kid that age, but that's how it was with him ever since I can remember.  He used to carry out groceries at Winn-Dixie on Hardy Street, and later he got to be produce manager.  Everybody liked him.  Least I never saw anybody who didn't."

On March 8, 1965, America committed its first combat troops to Vietnam when 3,500 Marines waded ashore at Da Nang with the announced mission of providing security for the U.S. air base located there.  On April 10, 1965, the United States sent in Marine reinforcements, and the buildup of American forces began in earnest.  It was, in fact, expanding into a war that would sweep Roy Wheat out of south Mississippi's piney woods during the course of the next 18 months and into the killing fields of South Vietnam.

By the end of 1965, General William Westmoreland had 184,000 American troops in Vietnam and more were on the way.  Back in Hattiesburg, grocery sacking must have seemed a pretty tame occupation to a vigorous, rawboned young man looking for something more challenging, more adventuresome.  Wheat enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on September 19, 1966.  Soon afterward, he was sent off to basic training wiht the 2nd Recruit Training Battalion to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, S.C.

Roy quicky adapted to t6he rigors of military life and wrote frequently to his family back home.  Thoughts of Vietnam also began to weigh upon his mind.  His letters contain frequent misspellings, but they reveal the thoughts of a patriotic and unusually compassionate young Marine.

"I am doing fine up hear," he wrote to his mother on October 8.  "The drilling is hard but I like it."

And on October 10, he wrote:  "If you are fat you had better stay out of the Marines, for it's hell for fat people....How is the war in Vietnam going?  I will be over there in approximately 7-9 months after I go on my 20-day leave to go home."

By November, Wheat was champing at the bits to get home for Christmas while basking in his newfound identity as a trained fighting man.  On November 4, he wrote:  "Dad and Mother...Boy, the girls had better watch out when I hit Moselle and Hattiesburg.  I feel real mean.  That's a Marine for you...tuff and expert fighter.  I can tear a man's head off and he won't realize it for about 10 minutes."

On November 13, he reported: "I guess 99 percent of us will be in some kind of fighting force.  In the Marines, you are trained for every kind of fighting there is.  And you are only taught how to kill your enemy before he gets you.

Even though Wheat was eager to get home for the holidays, he believed deeply that it was his duty to serve his country.  Like many young Americans of that era, he was imbued with a sense of responsibility, believing that military service was the price of freedom in a war-torn world.  It never would have occurred to him that America's intervention in Vietnam was anything other than a just cause.

"I just can't wait to get into civilian clothes again," he wrote in a December 13 letter home from Camp Geiger, N.C.  "But I am still proud to wear the Marine Corps uniform.  It shows everybody that you are a simble of freedom and honor.  To many men fought and died for the uniform and their freedom of living as they wish."

Although he could not have known it, Wheat's 1966 Christmas furlough would be his last visit wth family, friends and a special girlfriend, Sybil Drennan.  His parents told a newspaper reporter in 1968 that Sybil was the only girl Roy ever really cared about.  She would write to him in Vietnam, and she also sent him a crucifix for his 20th birthday.  It was around his neck when he died.

But during that 1966 holiday break from the grueling regimen of Parris Island, Roy was full of himself and proud of his hard-earned status as a Marine.  His father said in the 1968 interview that his normally easygoing son got into an altercation during Christmas leave when some young locals made fun of his uniform, which he continued to wear instead of civilian clothing.

"The only fistfight we ever heard about him having was when he came home on furlough, right before he shipped out," J.C. remembered.  "Roy went to a truck stop one night for a cup of coffee.  A couple of long-hair types started making fun of his uniform.  He was proud of being ni the Corps.  I don't think those fellows will get another giggle out of a Marine uniform."

Following the Christmas furlough, Wheat traveled to Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he would complete his advanced infantry training.  Family members drove him to New Orleans to catch his flight, and his father walked him to the plane.

As J.C. Wheat recalled in a 1993  video documentary, "He turned around and looked at me, with tears running down his cheeks.  He said, 'Daddy, I'll se you,' and that was it."

By early 1967, General Westmoreland had 390,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam, including seven divisions, two airborne and two light infantry brigades, an armored calvary regiment and a Special Forces group.  It was the year Westmoreland attempted to conduct a big-unit war.  Wheat was promoted t private first class in February and sent to Camp Pendleton, Calif., his point of departure for Vietnam.

Arriving in Chu Lai in mid-March 1967, Wheat was assigned to duty as a rifleman with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1stMarine Division.  The young Mississippian was quickly introduced to combat in the field.

In a letter dated March 31, he wrote to his family:  "Yesterday (actually March 27), we swept through a village killing 23 Viet Cong and captured 25 suspects.  We lost 1 sargent and one man injured when he stepped on a booby trap."

In that same letter-revealing the spontaneous battlefield behavior that cut to the character of the man-Wheat described other fighting that occurred on March 23.  "Boy, I sure did some crazy things when we got hit.  I did some things that if I had thought twice about, I never would have done, but you have no feeing for them when you load your friends aboard a chopper all shot up or stepped on a booby trap and torn all to pieces."

Within weeks, Wheat was getting news about the growing antiwar movement back in the States.  He expressed his feelings in an April 5 letter to his dad:  "I heard the Marines were called 'Baby Killers' for killing 14 to 17 yr old boys.  Well, the hard-core VC over here range from age 12 to 75 years of age.  These kids over here have real guns and real ammo and they have been taught how to use them very good.  People in the states are crazy.  They are sending blood and first aid to Hanoy and...VC when we had two Marines who died because of the loss of blood.  I had better not here of anyone doing this if I can get my hands on him...It's not funny when you hear lead go zing by and I have heard a few rounds go by and I know."

In the letter home the following day, the young Marine was already counting the months left in his one-year tour, asking his mother to buy him a recording of "Green, Green Grass of Home," and reminding her that his 20th birthday was only a few months away.  Then Wheat wrote with remarkable insight for a lad of only 19:  "I will be alright over here but they will never get peace over here, not now or 10 years from now.

The themes of love of family, God and country occur throughout Wheat's letters.  He wanted nothing more than to return to south Mississippi, purchase land adjoining his parents' property and raise cattle and hogs for a living.  For the most part, his letters tended to shield family and friends from the gravity of his situation, although many contained graphic accounts of the realities of war.  Letters to Roy from home were filled with family news and constant admonitions to take care of himself.

In a letter of April 8, Wheat expressed a good-natured pride in his increased physical prowess, revealed a growing disillusionment with the cause for which he was fighting and reflected his fatigue, resulting from the strain of combat.  "I have got a whole lot stronger and probably weigh more to," he wrote.  "I even have a few hairs on my chest.  How about that.  Boy, this is one place if  I get out of  I will  never come back to unless I have a high rank or something...it's not worth it over here.  About all we do is sweat and kill all the time."

For Wheat and the other front-line combatants, the threat of instant death or serious injury was a constant companion.  On April 10, he suffered the first of two battle wounds when a fragment from a mortar round tore a hole in his helmet and grazed his head as he was bounding from a truck under enemy fire at Chu Lai.  He was removed to the hospital ship USS Santuary, where he remained under observation for several days because of continuing dizzines.  "Now I can tell  you what happened to me which put me here," Roy wrote his parents from aboard Sanctuary on April 17.  "A mortar round fell not to far from me and my rifle went flying from my hand and a metal [fragment] from the mortar tore my helmet off my head.  I was luckier than some of my other buddies.  Some of them went home in a box or a coffin."

Wheat's mother was unnerved at the news of her son's wounding, and she wrote to him in response:  "I received your letter that you wrote to me on the hospital ship and it like to have scared me to death when I got it...Your daddy like to have went crazy when I read it to him...Roy, we are all praying for you.  Roy, I want you to ask the Lord to help you threw this terrible war so he can send you back home to us all."

In an April 19 letter, written one day before his discharge from the hospital ship, Wheat turned the attention away from himself and focused on the plight of soldiers who had sustained more life-threatening wounds.  "I have seen some Marines here that I don't see how they are living," he wrote.  "Some burned so bad they had to be put in cool water and you can't touch them for if you did their hide would peal off.  This is something over here,  It's like being in a dream over here.  Everything don't seem true."

Meanwhile, back in the States, massive demonstrations against the war were commanding national attention.  On April 15, protesters in New Yourk City's Central Park burned 200 draft cards.  On April 22, Wheat rejoined Company K on Hill 55, located about 12 miles south of Da Nang.  Farther north in South Vietnam, near the Cambodian border, in one of the fiercest battles of the war, U.S. Marines were fending off North Vietnamese attackers on the hills near the airstrip at Khe Sanh.  Wheat received news from home that his father's brother, Troy Wheat, had lost his battle against cancer, and he wrote back:  "I almost started crying myself, but I have seen so many of my buddies get killed over here until you just can't cry anymore....I also read where the preacher from Moselle prayed for me.  I am glad that he did.  I am always praying for my dear mother and dad and my brothers every night."  By this tme, Roy was experiencing a recurrence of dizziness and briefly considered the possibility of a medical discharge.  He wrote home on April 26:  "I just can't get to hot over here or I will start having dizzy spells, but I am going to give it a try and see what happens.  You never know until you try."

Wheat had rejoined his company earlier that day without his seabag, rifle and billfold, all of which he had lost during the mortar attack that had nearly claimed his life.  He did, however, still have a box of cookies, candy and chewing gum that had been sent to him by his family, and he shared those goodies with his buddies.

While Americans back home debated the apparent ineffectiveness of Rolling Thunder, the U.S. Air Force's saturation bombing campaign against the North, Roy offered his own front-line perspective;  "I know one thing, if the U.S. stops its bombing of the North, we can hang it up in our wall locker.  Some of those people back in the states that have never been over here before don't know what in the hell they are talking about.  You just wait until I go back to the States.  I am going to take names and kick ass, show them a little of my hand to hand combat."

In that same letter, written from a post located about 15 miles south of the DMZ, Wheat became more introspective.  He painted a humorous, surreal picture of the battlefield, writing:  "Well, Dad, I just got up and found me another shade so I could finish this letter.  I am a shade jumper.  I jump from one shade to another.  There is a hill off to my front and I am sitting here watching jets dump their bombs.  It is really a sight to watch, just like in the movies."

In a poignant letter of May 18 to Mrs. F.C. Brent, who had been his third grade teacher back in Moselle, Wheat conveyed some of his feelings about the Vietnamese people and the war he was immersed in:  "Sometimes, it is not a very pleasant sight over here but I am fighting over here to keep America free so that the people in the States might keep their freedom and their rights and to keep these people free over here.  These people are human just like you and me....I wish people in the states could see the way these people live and what they eat and how many are killed by VC because they, in a way, are helping us because they want freedom."

Around May 21, Company K moved to Hill 10, which was closer to Da Nang.  In June, Wheat was promoted to lance corporal and given an assignment of leading a security team.  One of the team's responsibilities was to check for booby traps before other personnel entered an area.  He wrote home on June 16:  "Last night [on June 15], I led 4 Marines outside of our perimeter into a VC area without being spotted or heard."  He continued, "After we got in about 10:30 their were bursts of machine gun fire about 25 feet to our left and they were firing at our hill and I opened up with my M-16 rifle killing 1 VC and wounding another....I don't mind getting into a fire fight ever now and then.  It makes up for the times that we missed them."

In a letter to Mrs. Brent on June 27, Wheat wrote about the close relationships he had developed with fellow soldiers in combat.  He also told her about the pain of seeing many of them die:  "Yes, I have got some buddies over here and I have also lost some good buddies, but I guess it was just their time to go and the Lord called for them.  Yes, it is just like a big family all living together."

In a June 27 letter to old friend Bobby Joe Strahon, Wheat revealed another dark side of the war.  "Bobby, I just got out of a court," he said.  "I was a witness for one of my buddy for beating a South Vietnamese farmer to death.  He was lucky he got off with not guilty."  On a lighter note, Wheat acknowledged news of Strahon's recent engagement to be married and added:  "Wow, how does it feel...Bobby Joe, I have not seen a good-looking girl since I left the States.  Boy, I can't wait until I hit the States again."

On July 24 a homesick Wheat celebrated his 20th birthday.  It would be his last.  In a letter home that day, he wrote:  "Well today I am 20 years old....I wish I was home for my birthday, but I can't have everything over here....I will sure be glad when the next 8 months are over with and I can come home."

In a July 30 letter to Strahon, Wheat wrote that he had been recommended for a medal becasuse of a recent incident which, once again, revealed his tendency to put himself at risk for the sake of others.  As he casually described it, "Oh yes, I am a hero to the Marines in Kilo Co. 1st Plt. because I saved 4 of my buddies from getting blown up by a booby trap."

Wheat also vividly described the horror of combat when he wrote in the same letter:  "I wish you could see me shoot with an M-16.  I shot a VC in the chest and where it came out I could stick my fist all the way through him."  In a postcript, he added:  "Here is you a coin from Vietnam.  I took it off a dead VC."

Later that same day, July 30, Wheat was wounded for a second time when a hand grenade exploded near him.  From the Da Nang hospital, he explained in an August 3 letter home what had happened to him and two other soldiers:  "We was setting up an ambush and Charley threw a grenade and it got all three of us.  One was hit in the face and the other was hit in the back and I was hit in the right thi.  It didn't hurt to bad, all I felt was a little sting....The doctors couldn't get the schraptnel out so I guess I will be carrying a little piece of medal around in my tail."

By the time he wrote that letter, however, Wheat's family had already been informed of his latest brush with death.  In a letter to her son, the last he would receive from home, Stella Wheat wrote on August 2:  "I heard about you being hurt and they told me you would be in the hospital 10 days.  I hope they send you home this time....You know that it was the Lord that pulled you threw....Well son I will close and go to church.  So be real good and let me hear from you.  And we will all be praying for you.  With all our love, Mother and family."

LANCE CORPORAL
ROY M. WHEAT, USMC
(Killed In Action)

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Roy Mitchell Wheat, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism in Vietnam in August 1967, was born 24 July 1947, in Moselle, Mississippi. He attended Jones County schools in Ellisville, Mississippi, leaving high school, after two years, in 1965.

In September 1966, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at Jackson, Mississippi. Private Wheat then reported to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina. He underwent recruit training with the 2d Recruit Training Battalion, after which he completed special infantry training with the 1st Infantry Training Battalion, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Upon completion of infantry training, he was promoted to private first class, February 1967.

Private First Class Wheat arrived in the Republic of Vietnam in March 1967, and was assigned duty as a rifleman with Company K, 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division. His unit participated in numerous combat operations, including Operation DeSoto, Duc Pho District, Quang Ngai Province; and Operations Webster, Arizona, Butler and Gem in Quang Nam Province. He was promoted to lance corporal, June 1967.

While assigned, with two other Marines, the mission of providing security for a Navy construction battalion crane and crew operating along Liberty Road in the vicinity of Dien Ban District, Quang Nam Province on 11 August 1967, LCpl Wheat was killed by multiple shrapnel wounds received when he unintentionally triggered a well concealed antipersonnel mine.

His medals and decorations include: the Medal of Honor, the Navy Commendation Medal, the Purple Heart with one Gold Star, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with two bronze stars, the Vietnamese Military Merit Medal, the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross with Palm, and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

Medal of Honor Citation

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UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS HISTORY DIVISION

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