Behind enemy lines and on a secret mission in Laos, Army Maj. John Mullins draped himself over his wounded comrade as machine gun fire ripped through their disabled helicopter.
The man would later credit Mullins, of Mountain Park, for protecting him that day in 1969.
Nonsense, Mullins said. Standing up would have been suicide.
U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas presented him with a Silver Star last week, more than 40 years after Mullins helped save two fellow soldiers in a downed helicopter in Laos during the Vietnam War.
His citation was lost when records detailing the event burned. He finished his military career assuming the award was denied. But a chance meeting with a former commander a few years ago restarted the process that resulted in recognition Lucas said was long overdue.
“It was a great honor to present Maj. Mullins with the Silver Star award,” Lucas said. “Mullins has a remarkable story and I am extremely grateful to him for serving our country so courageously in the Vietnam War. His gallant action in the war was very brave and his actions are a true testament to the veterans who have put their own lives in harm's way to protect this country.”
Early ‘black op'
Mullins served in Vietnam as a field operations officer for a project that would be described now as a “black op,” although Mullins said no one used the term back then. Mullins unit inserted undercover agents into Laos and Cambodia at a time when the U.S. officially was not conducting combat operations in those countries, which served as a supply base for the North Vietnamese.
On May 26, 1969, Mullins and Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Altano were inserting agents into Laos in a Vietnamese helicopter. They were hovering about two feet above the ground after dropping off an agent when they came under heavy machine gun fire that sent the helicopter crashing to the ground.
Mullins pulled the agent back into the helicopter. Altano took a bullet to the head. The helicopter's door gunner took a round to the chest.
Mullins, whose first tour was as a combat medic, started treating his wounded companions. Then he looked up to see a dozen enemy soldiers rushing their position. He took hold of the Browning 1919A6 machine gun in the helicopter's door.