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This Day in History: Maximo Yabes in Vietnam

On this day in 1932, a hero is born. Maximo “Max” Yabes would be awarded a Medal of Honor for his bravery in Vietnam. His heroic action occurred more than 16 years after he first joined the Army.


The California-born soldier had spent most of his childhood years in Oregon because his family moved there when he was young. He and his buddies at Oakridge High School called themselves the “Java Joes” because they spent so much time at a local café drinking coffee.


Apparently, they entertained themselves by throwing toothpicks at the ceiling.  One has to wonder how the café owner felt about that!?! 

In the end, Yabes didn’t graduate from high school. He dropped out of school and joined the Army.


While he was in the service, he got married, then divorced, then married again. He was away a lot, but he had two kids that he saw when he could. “He’d bounce you on his knee,” his son Greg said many years later, “and it felt like we’d never missed a beat. He was the best dad he could be at the time.”


On February 26, 1967, Yabes was near Phu Hoa Dong, Vietnam, with his company. Our boys were providing security for a land clearing operation when the enemy ferociously attacked.


The three-pronged attack began before dawn, and it continued for hours.


At one point, several grenades landed in a command post, near Yabes and others. “1st Sgt. Yabes shouted a warning,” his Medal citation later explained, “and used his body as a shield to protect others in the bunker.” He was “painfully wounded” by grenade fragments, his citation reports, but he didn’t miss a beat. He got up and provided covering fire to help others relocate.


His son later marveled at what his dad had done. “What he did makes you think of a big Rambo-type person,” he told a reporter. “My dad was a small man. But he had a huge heart.”


Maybe that explains how he managed to stay on his feet, despite his wounds?


The list of Yabes’ actions, taken after he’d borne the brunt of a grenade, is astonishing.  He ran through enemy fire to seize a grenade launcher, successfully using it against the enemy.  He recovered two wounded men stranded in an exposed position.  He single-handedly attacked and destroyed an enemy machine gun nest.


Only then did he fall, succumbing to his wounds at last.  He didn’t make it, but he is credited with saving several of his fellow soldiers—and for inspiring those around him to such a degree that the enemy assault was repelled.


“That was Max,” his first wife later concluded. “He would have done it for anybody.”


Yabes was posthumously awarded the Medal in 1968.  As the Medal was awarded, the Secretary of the Army praised the “surpassing act of personal courage for which we honor Sgt. Yabes today.”


Another American hero, giving his all.  Rest in peace, soldier.

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