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AU's only Medal of Honor recipient featured in USO documentary

AU's only Medal of Honor recipient featured in USO documentary

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Ret. U.S. Marine Major Gen. James Livingston

Ret. U.S. Marine Major Gen. James Livingston

Auburn University’s only Medal of Honor recipient will be featured in a new documentary, "The USO -- An Army of Volunteers," premiering at Pebble Hill at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

The following week, Ret. U.S. Marine Major Gen. James Livingston will be in Virginia and Washington, D.C., for a 50th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Dai Do.

Livingston received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam. The 78-year-old, one of 71 Medal of Honor recipients still alive today, recalls the series of events 50 years ago as “tough but still memorable.”

“Most of all I remember the exceptional skills and performance of the great young marines and sailors,” he said.

'A little bit of home'

The documentary examines the history of the United Services Organization, or USO, and features Livingston, who graduated from Auburn in 1962 with a degree in civil engineering and a commission in the U.S. Marine Corps.

The Georgia native would spend the next 33 years in the corps, including two tours of duty in Vietnam.

Livingston said he considered the USO to be “big morale boosters” and a key component for soldiers in a combat theatre, as it “brought a little bit of home to the area where we were deployed.”

The Veterans Resource Center, Department of Political Science and the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities are hosting the free event Thursday in Auburn, with historian and filmmaker John Provan.

Provan traveled throughout the country to interview USO volunteers and veterans such as Livingston.

U.S. Army Capt. Ron Plunkett, who volunteers as Livingston’s chief of staff, agreed with the general’s assessment. Plunkett spent 13 months in Korea, where the USO introduced him and others to the educational program, Up with People.

He also spent a year in Vietnam, where he saw the Hollywood icon probably most commonly associated with entertaining the troops through the USO — Bob Hope.

The USO also provided help to soldiers with airport aid stations and canteens in various cities, Plunkett said.

A storied history

The Auburn University Chapel, 139 S. College St., served as a USO canteen from 1942-45.

Since it was built in 1850 as a Presbyterian church, the chapel has had many uses, including a Civil War hospital, civic center, classroom, theater and Young Women’s Christian Association, or YWCA.

The USO was formed in 1941 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to unite five volunteer service organizations, including the Salvation Army, YWCA and Young Men’s Christian Association or YMCA, under one organization dedicated to lifting the morale of men and women in uniform and their families.

Through the years, YMCA and YWCA buildings were often temporarily converted to serve as canteens for service members.

Provan found that between 1942 and 1947, the YMCA ran many USO clubs that were visited by 460 million soldiers.

“The USO underscores the concept of ‘patriotism,’ a word that most Americans understand, believe in and support — especially when American servicemen and women are fighting a war,” he said. “The act of volunteering is an example of the individual sacrificing for the greater good or the war effort.

The Medal of Honor

Livingston was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during his first tour in Vietnam, specifically on May 2, 1968. He was a 28-year-old marine captain, commanding officer of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, in the Vietnam village of Dai Do.

According to the Medal of Honor citation, the enemy had seized the village the night before, isolating a marine company from the rest of the battalion. Livingston maneuvered his men to assault positions across 500 meters of open rice paddy while under intense enemy fire.

Twice wounded by grenade fragments, Livingston refused medical treatment and led his men in the destruction of over 100 mutually supporting bunkers, driving the remaining enemy from their positions and relieving the pressure on the stranded marine company.

As the two companies consolidated and evacuated casualties, a third company passed through, launching an assault on the adjacent village of Dinh To. Their movement was halted by an enemy counterattack until Livingston maneuvered his company forward, joined forces with the heavily engaged marines and stopped the counterattack.

Wounded a third time and unable to walk, Livingston remained in the dangerously exposed area, deploying his men to more acceptable positions and supervising the evacuation of casualties. He was evacuated only after he was assured of the safety of his men.

The Medal of Honor has been bestowed on 3,500 individuals since 1863.

Amy Weaver is an employee in the communications and marketing department at Auburn University.

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