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This Day in History: Jesus Duran's bravery in Vietnam

On this day in 1969, a hero engages in an action that would earn him the Medal of Honor. Then-Spc4 Jesus S. Duran would survive his heroic act, come home, get married, and have kids. Unfortunately, tragedy would hit not too long after that.

Duran was an immigrant who’d come to this country when he was roughly 10 years old, along with his parents and his 11 siblings. He joined the Army in 1968 at the age of 19.

“He just wanted to better himself,” his widow explained, “to do something for his country. By joining the service, he was able to become a U.S. citizen.”

Duran was an unlikely hero, in some ways. For one thing, he wasn’t very big—just 5 foot 4 inches. Nevertheless, he demonstrated his bravery early and often as when he served as a “tunnel rat” in Vietnam. The Viet Cong used an elaborate system of tunnels underground. Most were too cramped for the average American soldier, but smaller men such as Duran could fit. Investigating the tunnels was dangerous—but necessary—work.

He demonstrated his bravery, again, on April 10, 1969, as his platoon undertook a search-and-clear mission. Our soldiers were moving towards an elaborate enemy bunker complex when the enemy opened fire.

“He was in a gun battle. He was hunkered down,” Duran’s son, Chuy, later told a reporter. “He had an M-60. His platoon was in a fight and a lot of guys were killed. He thought he was going to be left for dead, so he decided to take the M-60 and unload.”

His Medal citation describes this moment colorfully, noting that Duran was moving “[w]ith an M-60 machinegun blazing from his hip.”

Duran had learned that two soldiers were seriously wounded, pinned down and in need of help. He rushed towards the enemy position, firing as he ran. “Mounting a log,” the Medal citation concludes, “he fired directly into the enemy’s foxholes, eliminating four and cutting down several others as they fled.”

Duran’s bravery initially earned him a Silver Star, but then that Star was upgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross. Finally, a review of old awards in 2014 concluded that his Cross should have been a Medal of Honor.

Unfortunately, Duran was not around to receive his Medal. He’d been the victim of random violence at a neighborhood bar in 1977. That incident left him stabbed and mortally wounded, leaving behind his wife and two young children.

Those children had to grow up without their father, but their pride in him was evident when his Medal was awarded in 2014. His daughter, Tina, accepted the Medal, beaming with pride. Her brother Chuy was in full agreement. “Giving him the Medal of Honor is pretty darn big,” he concluded.

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