This Day in History: Lance Corporal William Prom & his Medal of Honor

On this day in 1969, a United States Marine is ambushed—but goes down fighting! Lance Corporal William R. Prom would be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for the bravery that cost him his life that day.

Prom may have been a hero, but he was also just an American boy who dreamed of being a professional baseball player. Or, if that didn’t work out, perhaps he could be a police officer. He put these dreams on hold when he signed up for the Marines late in 1967, just as his best friend was preparing to go to college. Prom soon wrote his family from basic training, trying to ease their concerns. “Don’t worry about anything,” he wrote in 1968. “It’s a whole lot of fun down here. Just like Boy Scout camp.”

Presumably, it got a lot tougher once he went overseas.

“I’m now a full-time gunner,” he wrote in October 1968. “I carry a M-60 and a .45 . . . . I haven’t been anywhere near civilization since I got here.”

He would serve in combat for only a few months before his final action. In February 1969, Prom’s platoon was returning to base after a reconnaissance mission. They were ambushed! North Vietnamese forces, Prom’s citation notes, launched “an intense automatic weapons fire and grenade attack” from their “well concealed” and “fortified positions.”

The sudden attack left several Marines wounded. Prom moved into position, providing cover fire while first aid was administered to the wounded. It soon became apparent that the injured Marines could not be moved to safety until the enemy was destroyed. Prom didn’t hesitate. He “moved forward and delivered a heavy volume of fire with such accuracy that he was instrumental in routing the enemy.”

When a second round of attacks was commenced, he did it again.

By the end, he had so many severe wounds that he couldn’t really fire anymore. Nevertheless, he “continued to advance to within a few yards of the enemy positions. There, standing in full view of the enemy, he accurately directed the fire of his support elements until he was mortally wounded.”

Too wounded to fire, but unwilling to quit. Wow.

Prom did not survive the experience, but the other Marines were inspired by his courage. They launched one last assault that finally destroyed the enemy.

Prom’s dreams of going home to his family and becoming a professional baseball player were obviously left in ruins. But his selfless action had saved the life of several Marines.