Major General James E. Livingston – Flag for Hope Star #48
Major General Livingston Medal of Honor
Despite being badly wounded, then-Capt. James E. Livingston left the intense three-day clash in Vietnam only after his own men and casualties had evacuated the battlefield. Witnesses say the 28-year-old was still firing his weapon at the enemy when two fellow Marines carried him out.
“Only when assured of the safety of his men did he allow himself to be evacuated” from the battlefield, states the Medal of Honor citation he received for his actions on May 2, 1968. The Medal of Honor is the highest U.S. military honor, and it is awarded for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty. Livingston is one of 77 living recipients of the Medal of Honor.
Retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Livingston, now 75, painted the 22nd star on the Flag for Hope aboard the USS Yorktown, a decommissioned World War II aircraft carrier.
Courteous and lithe, Livingston becomes intense when asked to share his feelings about the U.S. flag.
“To my fellow Americans, defend your country at all cost. Remember who you are as a people and take care of America and take care of the flag,” he says without hesitation.
Livingston lives what he says. As a Marine Corps officer in the Vietnam War, he charged hard and he led from the front, willing to pay the ultimate price to defend his beloved country.
Marine Corps Career
During his second tour in Vietnam, enemy forces seized a small village and fortified it with heavy artillery. That left a U.S. Marine company isolated and vulnerable. Livingston personally led the charge to rescue that company. He moved his Company E across 500 meters of open rice paddies under intense fire, breaking through enemy lines and strategically using smokescreens to place his men into position.
Livingston ignored the hail of gunfire and wounds he suffered from grenade explosives to “fearlessly” lead his men and move to the “points of heaviest resistance,” reads the Medal of Honor citation.
The stranded Marine company broke free, and the two companies joined forces to hold their position and evacuate casualties. But the battle was far from over. Although injured twice, Livingston then assisted a third Marine company fighting desperately at an adjacent village.
He “boldly maneuvered” his few remaining men forward, “joined forces with the heavily engaged Marines, and halted the enemy’s counterattack,” says the citation.
In his autobiography, “Noble Warrior,” Livingston describes an hour of hand-to-hand fighting that left his Marines with control of the ground, but reinforcements for the North Vietnamese Army eventually arrived and strengthened enemy forces. So Livingston, despite being immobilized by a third injury and perched in an exposed area, directed the Marines out in a phased withdrawal.
Livingston returned to Vietnam in 1975 to assist in the frantic evacuation of Americans and Vietnamese as Saigon fell. The Auburn University graduate continued to serve in the Marine Corps for nearly 34 years and says he “enjoyed every day of it.”
Awards and Decorations
His military decorations and awards include the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Bronze Star Medal with combat V, Combat Action Ribbon with Gold Star, and Purple Heart Medal.
The achievements of the Georgia farm boy have left a global imprint:
- commanded the Marine Barracks in London,
- trained forces at the Marine Recruit Depot in South Carolina,
- served in joint forces in the Philippines, and
- developed the Desert Warfare Training Program during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the Middle East.
Life and Service
After retiring in 1995, Livingston continued his life of service, volunteering on numerous charitable boards such as The National D-Day Museum, the Red Cross and the Boy Scouts of America. He is also a founding trustee and chairman of the board of the National World War II Museum.
Livingston’s family often describes him as a man with a two-fold mission: to not let America forget her veterans and to build an America that is good for all families.
One gets the sense that Livingston lives each day like he did on that fateful day in the rice paddy village – not quitting until he has done all he can to help and protect others.