RUPPERT L. SARGENT
During a sweep of a hamlet in Hau Nghia Province on March 15, 1967, a former VC led 1st Lieutenant Ruppert L. Sargent and three members of his platoon to a Viet Cong meeting house aid weapons cache. Sargent, twenty-nine years old, saw the tunnel entrance was booby-trapped. He called for a demolition man place a charge. The resulting explosion didn't destroy the booby-trap but it did flush a VC from hiding. One of Sargent's men cut the man down. Sargent and two of his men stepped toward the tunnel entrance. Suddenly another VC broke from cover, tossed two grenades at the Americans, then fled. Sargent fired three shots at the man then turned and threw himself over the grenades. Sargent was killed in the explosion, but his gallant efforts saved the lives of his two comrades. In July 1968 the recommendation for Sargent's posthumous Medal of Honor was approved, making him the first black officer so recognized. Pentagon officials who contacted Sargent's widow to arrange for the presentation ceremony were stunned when she refused to accept the award. Her position stemmed from her strong religious beliefs. A Jehovah's Witness, she professed allegiance to God alone and not to any organized government. Sargent's mother, also a Jehovah's Witness, supported her daughter-in-law. She had, in fact, opposed her son's entrance into the Army.
Born January 9, 1938, in Hampton, Virginia, Sargent enlisted in the Army in January 1959 after finishing two years of college. Although he was raised as a Jehovah's Witness, the attraction of the military overcame his religious training. After six years as an enlisted man Sargent was accepted for officer's training. He received his gold bars on October 15, 1965. He went to Company B, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division in September 1966. Six months later he was killed in action. For several months after Mrs. Sargent's refusal, Army officers continued their efforts to persuade her to accept the award. She continued to decline. At last, when the Army agreed to make the presentation in private, with no publicity, she consented. On March 10, 1969, Brigadier General Donley P. Bolton drove from Washington to Hampton. In the presence of Sargent's two children, Bolton solemnly handed the widow the posthumous medal and citation. One Pentagon official, after reading the citation, said he felt sure Mrs. Sargent had no right to keep her husband's award a secret. "He belongs to the country now," he said.