Just A Little Walk In The Woods

with the Delta Raiders

Company D, 2nd Battalion, 501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile)


You should know soldier Joe Hooper

Taken from the April 1990 Issue #22, Delta Raider Newsletter

Published Jan 22,1986, Joliet Herald-News, Joliet, IL

Joe Hooper may have been the perfect warrior, the ideal combat soldier. But his name today isn't famous. He should be.

He walked as tall as Alvin York and Audie Murphy. But they earned their combat records in World Wars I and II. Joe earned his medals in that unpopular war. That place called Vietnam.

Joe Hooper was the most decorated soldier in Vietnam.

His story starts in Moses Lake, Wash., which is a little town about 250 miles from Seattle. Joe grew up on a dairy farm there. He was a high school athlete, a track star and a football player.

At the age of 17 Joe enlisted in the Navy. He liked the service life and planned a military career. But when it was time to reenlist in 1961, he changed to the Army.

Joe ended up with the 101st Airborne Division. And he went to Vietnam where he earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.

He was a sergeant, a squad leader then, leading his men near the city of Hue. This is what happened on Feb. 21, 1968, according to the citation with his medal:

"...Company D was assaulting a heavily defensed enemy position along a river bank when it encountered a withering hail of fire from rockets, machine-guns and automatic weapons. (He) rallied several men and stormed across the river, over-running several bunkers on the opposite shore... With utter disregard for his own safety, he moved out under the intense fire again and pulled back the wounded, moving them to safety... (He) was seriously wounded, but he refused medical aid and returned to his men. With the relentless enemy fire disrupting the attack, he single-handedly stormed three enemy bunkers, destroying them with hand grenades and rifle fire, and shot two enemy soldiers who had attacked and wounded the chaplain...

"Finding his men under heavy fire from a house to the front, he proceeded alone to the building, killing its occupants with rifle fire and grenades. By now his initial body wound had been compounded by grenade fragments, yet, despite the multiple wounds and loss of blood, he continued to lead his men against the intense enemy fire...

"(He) gathered several grenades and raced down a small trench which ran the length of the bunker line, tossing grenades into each bunker as he passed by, killing all but two of the occupants... He then raced across an open field, still under fire, to rescue a wounded man who was trapped in a trench. Upon reaching the man, he was faced by an armed enemy soldier whom he killed with a pistol... He neutralized the final pocket of enemy resistance by fatally wounding three North Vietnamese officers..."

Joe was wounded seven times that day. But he wouldn't allow himself to be removed from the battlefield until all his men were safe. He finally passed out from the loss of blood.

Hr regained consciousness in a field hospital. But Joe was still worried about his men, young men who depended upon the experience of the 29-year-old sergeant.

The next day he stole a rifle and hitched a ride back to his outfit. Technically, he was AWOL. But by the time the Army found him two days later, Joe had been wounded again.

President Richard Nixon pinned the Medal of Honor on Joe, who had been commissioned a second lieutenant. He went on a speaking tour across the nation.

Then he asked to go back to Vietnam.

That required special orders from the president for a Medal of Honor soldier to go back to Vietnam on a second tour.

But Joe felt he was needed there. He knew he was a good soldier, a good leader. He said his experience would help save the lives of some of those young men who were fighting in Vietnam.

After two combat tours in the war, Joe had received 37 medals. They included two Silver Stars (one of them had started out as another recommendation for a second Medal of Honor), six Bronze Stars and eight Purple Hearts.

Joe returned to duty at Fort Polk, La. where he was training recruits. But he didn't fit in well with stateside duty & he resigned his commission in 1972.

Joe was disillusioned by the "new" Army and its lack of discipline. He believed that discipline and training were what paid off in combat.

Joe's wife said he cried that day as he watched the news films showing the last of the American forces being pulled out of Vietnam. He told her all those lives and all those broken bodies had been wasted. He said we had accomplished nothing.

Joe made many speeches about his combat experience. He told a reporter he could smell the enemy.

If someone asked, he would tell them about the day he won the Medal of Honor. "I had no choice that day," Joe would say. "I did what I had to do."

That was kind of Joe Hooper's philosophy in life. You do what you have to do at the time and you face tomorrow when it arrives.

Joe's legacy

He gave everything

"When you retire from guerrilla fighting, it is not something you just walk away from without losing some part of you. In those days, you lived, almost thrived, on fear. Now there is no fear in my life, and I admit I'm a little flat." (Joe Hooper in "The Seattle Times")

There was a lot of hoopla surrounding Joe Hooper when he came home from Vietnam as the most decorated soldier of that war.

He made speeches and guest appearances on television. Famous people wanted to meet him and to shake his hand. Promoters talked about books, even a movie on his life.

They said Steve McQueen should star as Joe in the movie. The six-foot blond combat veteran had a strong resemblance to McQueen.

Joe had received the Congressional Medal of Honor and 36 other medals for his bravery during two tours of duty in Vietnam. That was eight more medals than Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of World War II, had received.

And Murphy had gone on to become a movie star, starring as himself in "To Hell and Back."

Joe had been to the same place.

A California television station wanted to do a series of stories on Joe and Murphy together. Joe and Murphy met, became friends and agreed to the series. But the week the series was started Murphy was killed in a plane crash in 1971.

Joe attended Murphy's funeral in Arlington National Cemetery. Little did Joe know then that he would be buried there eight years later. Both graves are near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Disillusioned with the stateside Army, Joe resigned his Army commission in 1972. He was a first lieutenant.

But just as quickly as the instant fame had come to Joe Hooper, it was over with. No book had been written, no movie was made.

Joe went to work with the Veterans Administration in Seattle, Wash. as a veteran's benefits counselor. He was good at it, but he was bored with the bureaucracy.

"He related to the vets like they were friends," said Alex Vira, a friend who also worked at the V.A.

Vira said Joe realized he was a symbol of something great and he fit the role. Joe was a patriotic man. They were both captains in the same reserve unit. Once they had gone on a training exercise at Fort Polk, La.

"We were walking across the parade ground that night headed for the Post Exchange when we were just swamped with bald headed recruits from the 101st Airborne," Vira said. "I don't know how they knew who he was but they all wanted to meet Joe Hooper and get his autograph. He gave them a little talk about hanging in there no matter how tough it gets."

"Joe was a man of extremes," Combs said. "And there was no in-between for him. When he partied, he partied the most and the longest. That was his negative side. On the positive side, he could be the most likeable, most lovable man you could meet."

He said Joe wasn't bitter about no longer being in the public spotlight. But he was surprised and disappointed.

"As a civilian there were less and less invitations for him to be in the public eye," Combs said.

Fay Hooper, Joe's wife, said he wasn't haunted by nightmares from Vietnam. She said her husband had found a peace within himself before he went back to Vietnam the second time.

"My husband didn't go to church a lot, but he believed in God," she said. "He believed that God had a plan for each person and if you were meant to survive you would."

She said Joe had a special feeling for children. He often talked to scout groups and underprivileged boys.

"He told them you don't have to be macho to be a man," she said. "He stressed being yourself and you can do anything you want to if you try hard enough."

Joe eventually left the V.A. and found a new interest. Race horses. At one time he owned five of them. He wanted to breed and raise race horses. He never missed the Kentucky Derby.

He was in Louisville, KY for Derby week when he died on May 5, 1979. He was found in a hotel room. He was just 40.

The perfect warier and the ideal combat soldier had died a quiet death from a cerebral hemorrhage while sleeping.

The news of Joe Hoopers death wasn't big news. The national media ignored his passing. There was just a notice in the Medal of Honor Society's newsletter.

Joe was buried in Arlington National Cemetery less than 20 paces from the grave of his friend Audie Murphy.

There has been a movement to name a wing of the V.A. hospital in Seattle after Joe. But Congress has taken no action yet.

I asked Red Combs, Joe's close friend and godfather to his daughter, what legacy Joe had left behind for us to remember.

"I guess Joe Hooper's legacy was that there were heroes in Vietnam," Combs replied. "Heroes who gave that war everything in them and were willing to sacrifice their lives for our country."


below are links to more

Raider Writings

Hill 100  |  Delta Raiders Overrun Outpost  |  Infantry, Arty Chew Up NVA Unit 

Going Home  Heavy Fighting Near Bastogne  |  Hill 805, A First Sergeant Remembers 

The Introduction  |  Across The River & Into...  |  Raiders "Lighten The Load"

You should know Joe Hooper  |  Most decorated soldier dies  |  The List

Airborne Trooper Saves Girl  |  Flashback  |  Night Sweats  |  'Grunt' More Than A Name 

Delta Raiders Ambushed Near Firebase Bastogne | To My Dad on Veterans Day


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