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This Day in History: Frankie Molnar's bravery in Vietnam

On this day in 1967, a hero engages in an action that would earn him the Medal of Honor.  Perhaps Frankie Molnar was destined to be a hero? 


His mother would later remember Molnar’s early years in West Virginia, telling a journalist about a little boy that Frankie had saved from drowning. “He wasn’t afraid of anything,” she concluded proudly.


Molnar soon moved to California, where he ultimately joined the Army. He served one tour of duty in Vietnam, then returned home.

It seemed that all he could do was mope around the house. “He would sit there thinking, thinking,” his mother explained. “I said, ‘Frankie, what’s wrong?’ He said, ‘I’m going back in the Army.’ When he told me he was going back to Vietnam, he said ‘one of these days, I’ll make history.’”


Surely neither of them thought that “make history” would mean earning a Medal of Honor?


When Molnar finally returned to Vietnam in 1967, he was a 24-year-old husband and the father of an 8-day-old little girl, Michelle.


Trouble came on May 20, 1967, as S/Sgt. Molnar served with Company B, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division near Pleiku, South Vietnam.  The enemy had launched an attack on the battalion’s defensive perimeter: It unfortunately proved to be the beginning of a longer nighttime attack.


Molnar leapt into action. He was a squad leader, and it was his duty.


“As he crawled through the position,” his Medal citation later described, “he discovered a group of enemy soldiers closing in on his squad area. His accurate rifle fire killed five of the enemy and forced the remainder to flee.”


The initial attack had largely been composed of mortar fire, but now another “human wave” started. Molnar was all over the place. His Medal citation describes him making daring dashes for ammunition, distributing it to his men, supporting their counterattacks, and tending to the wounded.  


He was trying to move a badly wounded soldier with the help of several others when the enemy threw a grenade straight toward the small group. Molnar was the first to see the grenade, and he promptly threw himself upon it.


He did not survive the move, but he did protect those around him.


“It’s pretty much what I would have expected of him,” First Lieutenant Larry Rodabaugh later said. “He was an outstanding squad leader, and he was a really good soldier.”


Captain Robert Sholly concurred, noting that Molnar “could have gone to Canada while on leave and stayed there until the war was over, like some did, but his family obviously had standards and raised him to be true to himself.” Sholly thought highly of him and was planning to recommend him for OCS. “He would have made a fine officer,” Sholly concluded.


It wasn’t to be, of course. Instead, Molnar posthumously received a Medal in July 1969. His family was understandably proud.


“We draw comfort,” his brother said, “from the thought that his actions may have spared other families . . . . Frankie’s smile and laughter will always be with us as we pass all of our fond memories of him on to our children.”


And that’s exactly what they did. In fact, in one notable incident, Frankie’s grandson was asked to write a school report. He was supposed to pick someone he respected, and the choice was obvious: His mom’s dad.


“It was a very impressive report,” Frankie’s daughter Michelle beamed. “He got an A.”


Rest in peace, Sir.

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