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This Day in History: Gollie Grant's Navy Cross

On this day in 1966, a hero engages in an action that would earn him the Navy Cross. HM2 Gollie L. Grant was then serving in Quang Tri Province, Vietnam.

We hear quite a bit about the Medal of Honor, but what about the Navy Cross? It’s the second-highest military decoration for those in the Navy, Coast Guard, or Marines. The Cross is also a respected decoration earned by many of our bravest heroes.

Indeed, renowned Marine Chesty Puller earned a record five Navy Crosses.

The Cross was originally created to recognize the heroes of World War I, but the standards to earn the Cross have changed over time. When established in 1919, the Cross was awarded for “extraordinary heroism or distinguished service.” Eventually, the “distinguished service” part of that standard was dropped.

People were having trouble figuring out what “distinguished service” meant.

Today, the Cross is given to a person who “distinguishes himself by extraordinary heroism” in certain combat actions. This language stands in contrast to that for the Medal of Honor: “gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.” Nevertheless, many Cross recipients put their lives on the line, just as Medal of Honor recipients do. Many even lose their lives.

Indeed, it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between those actions meriting the Navy Cross versus those meriting the Medal of Honor.

Gollie Grant’s Navy Cross stands out as one example of this dynamic. He was posthumously awarded a Cross for his bravery nearly 60 years ago today, but at least one Vietnam veteran thought Grant’s action deserved a Medal instead.

“Gollie was a great example of John 15:13: ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,’” Retired Major Bob Smith concluded. He was then presiding over a dedication for a memorial in Grant’s hometown.

The memorial had been established at a local elementary school because citizens in Old Fort, North Carolina, were proud of their native son—and with good cause!

On September 19, 1966, Grant was serving with his company near Gia Binh Village in the multi-month Operation Prairie. Suddenly, a well-concealed enemy force attacked the lead squad with “intense automatic-weapons and sniper fire,” as described by his Cross citation. The young man didn’t even hesitate. He ran through enemy fire, determined to help wounded Marines.

“While moving toward the nearest wounded Marine, he himself was struck by small-arms fire,” his citation describes. “Ignoring his painful wound, he courageously continued his advance by crawling toward his wounded comrade.”

Grant was wounded—again—as he administered first aid to this Marine, but he refused to quit. He is credited with getting the Marine to friendly lines and saving his life.

Unfortunately, his luck ran out when he tried to go back for another wounded Marine. As he tried to get there, a third enemy round left him mortally wounded.

“Greater love has no one than this,” indeed!

Perhaps today is a good day to remember the many men and women who have received a Navy Cross. Their deeds aren’t always as well documented as Medal recipients, but the bravery and self-sacrifice were just as important.

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