The Lance Corporal Paul Cheatwood Story
I continue to re-read and study Mark Bowden’s new book about the Battle for Hue. I must confess that I have very strong, but also very contradictory feelings about this work. On one hand, I wish to thank Mr. Bowden for completing this book because that accomplishment, more than just about anything over the past several decades, has resulted in a significant increase in interest about that chapter in our history, and that interest seems to be coming from a wide range of individual perspectives. When I committed to read and review the book, I was determined to read every word, which goal I did accomplish. I also, as promised, wrote and released a book review which is now posted on my BLOG. My “re-read” was generated by self-interest; I wanted to see if Mr. Bowden had included all the actions of many of our heroes, those who fought on phase line green and the Dong Ba Tower. Fortunately, most of those actions are included, but I soon learned, to my dismay, that Bowden failed to include even one word about a Marine who was, in my mind but without a doubt, “The Hero” of the battle for the Citadel Fortress of Hue.
His name is Lance Corporal Paul Cheatwood. Lance Corporal Cheatwood pulled off several amazing and heroic acts in his single-handed effort to save his friends, killing several of the enemy soldiers he faced in the process, yet somehow lived to tell about it. This brave Marine’s story proves the adage that “One man can make a difference.”
Lieutenant General Ron Christmas, USMC (Ret), who, as a young captain, served as an infantry company commander during the Battle for Hue, has often remarked about “Lance Corporal Ingenuity,” and how that one element (adapt, improvise, overcome) often turned the tide in battle. I wholeheartedly agree with him, but this was a case of “Lance Corporal Bravery.” Paul Cheatwood’s incredibly courageous actions on February 16, 1968, saved many of his fellow Marines’ lives, destroyed many of the enemy, and changed the course of the entire battle.
No one could have possibly predicted what Lance Corporal Cheatwood would do on the morning of 16 February 1968. Paul was a 60mm mortarman. He was a U. S. Marine. He was doing his job along with his fellow Bravo Company mortarmen, a short distance behind the fierce street fighting. Since early that morning, they had been firing mortar barrage, after mortar barrage against the huge force of enemy soldiers stubbornly defending their positions in all the houses on the south side of the street we dubbed phase line green. A line drawn by a green marker pen on a battle map, My Thuc Loan Street became phase line green, a “line in the sand” separating the Marines from the hundreds of NVA soldiers they had been fighting on this blood-soaked street for the better part of four days. At that point, the entire battalion of Marines and Sailors known as One Five had suffered more than 40% casualties, most of whom had either been killed in action, or wounded in action and evacuated.
Paul was supposed to stay where he was and continue to fire mortar barrages, but when he heard the shouts, screams and shrieks from his fellow Bravo Company Marines come across the radio net, he acted immediately to try his best to save them. Most of them were friends, not just fellow Marines. No one could have ever predicted that Lance Corporal Paul Cheatwood, U. S. Marine, would leave his post at the mortar pits, rush forward, cross the street under fire, and then single-handedly and remorselessly attack and destroy both enemy machine gun positions with hand grenades while being painfully wounded several times. Paul’s amazing acts of courage saved the Bravo Company attack force, single-handedly securing a “beachhead” across the street for the first time in those four long days of all-out urban warfare.
Those of us who were there that day know that Lance Corporal Paul Cheatwood was that one man whose incredible acts of courage made a huge difference. Those of us who fought in the Citadel and who know his story will never forget how important his deeds were to all the rest of us. We saw and heard it all unfold, and our memories of those moments were indelibly etched in our minds and memories. No book about the Battle for Hue is complete without including Paul’s story. One man turned the tide.
When I later learned that Paul Cheatwood had been awarded the Navy Cross, I knew in my heart that Cheatwood had earned the right to wear the Medal of Honor. Read his Navy Cross citation and judge for yourself:
Paul passed away just a few years ago. We hope his family members know how much he was respected and loved by his fellow Marines who fought in Hue. I have learned that several combat veterans knew what Paul had done, and all of us realized the absolute fact that had Paul failed to secure that beachhead, many more U. S. Marines and U. S. Navy Corpsmen would have surely perished. A total of four, and possibly more, letters were sent to HQMC back then, recommending that Corporal Paul Cheatwood receive the Medal of Honor for his incredible acts of valor on February 16, 1968, in the Citadel Fortress of Hue.
We will not forget. www.5thmarinesvietnammemorial.org