Uncommon Valor part five: Platoon Sgt. Finnis McCleery

Platoon Sgt. Finnis McCleery, Medal of Honor Recipient from San Angelo, Texas (Courtesy photo)

Platoon Sgt. Finnis McCleery, Medal of Honor Recipient from San Angelo, Texas (Courtesy photo)

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- While thus far the Medal of Honor recipients covered in this series have been Airmen (whether assigned to the Army Air Corps or the Air Force) who have been stationed at Goodfellow, another native San Angeloan is also a recipient of our nation's highest honor.

Army Platoon Sgt. Finnis Dawson McCleery was born on Christmas Day, 1927, in Stephenville, Texas, and moved to San Angelo before joining the Army. Once in the Army, he progressed through the ranks to platoon sergeant (sergeant first class), deploying to Vietnam in 1968 as a platoon sergeant for 1st Platoon, Company A, First Battallion, Sixth U.S. Invantry, 23rd Infantry Division. On May 14, 1968, Sergeant McCleery led his platoon to take a hill occupied by the North Vietnamese Army near Tam Ky, Vietnam. From his Medal of Honor citation:

"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. p/Sgt. McCleery, U.S. Army, distinguished himself while serving as platoon leader of the 1st platoon of Company A. A combined force was assigned the mission of assaulting a reinforced company of North Vietnamese Army regulars, well entrenched on Hill 352, 17 miles west of Tam Ky. As p/Sgt. McCleery led his men up the hill and across an open area to close with the enemy, his platoon and other friendly elements were pinned down by tremendously heavy fire coming from the fortified enemy positions.

"Realizing the severe damage that the enemy could inflict on the combined force in the event that their attack was completely halted, p/Sgt. McCleery rose from his sheltered position and began a l man assault on the bunker complex. With extraordinary courage, he moved across 60 meters of open ground as bullets struck all around him and rockets and grenades literally exploded at his feet. As he came within 30 meters of the key enemy bunker, p/Sgt. McCleery began firing furiously from the hip and throwing hand grenades.

"At this point in his assault, he was painfully wounded by shrapnel, but, with complete disregard for his wound, he continued his advance on the key bunker and killed all of its occupants. Having successfully and single-handedly breached the enemy perimeter, he climbed to the top of the bunker he had just captured and, in full view of the enemy, shouted encouragement to his men to follow his assault.

"As the friendly forces moved forward, p/Sgt. McCleery began a lateral assault on the enemy bunker line. He continued to expose himself to the intense enemy fire as he moved from bunker to bunker, destroying each in turn. He was wounded a second time by shrapnel as he destroyed and routed the enemy from the hill. p/Sgt. McCleery is personally credited with eliminating several key enemy positions and inspiring the assault that resulted in gaining control of Hill 352.

"His extraordinary heroism at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, was in keeping with the highest standards of the military service, and reflects great credit on him, the Americal Division, and the U.S. Army."

After returning from Vietnam, Platoon Sgt. McCleery left the Army and settled in San Angelo with his wife, Lena and their seven children. He passed away July 11, 2002, and is buried in San Angelo.

(This story is part five of a six-part series on Medal of Honor winners from Goodfellow Air Force Base and the San Angelo area)