Fifty years ago today, Drew Dix, a Green Beret from the 5th SFG risked his life, time and again with an indigenous force to rescue Vietnamese and American civilians during the Tet Offensive. For these actions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Dix was the first enlisted man to be awarded the Medal of Honor, but immediately after, was given a direct commission to 1LT. He would remain in the Army for 20 years retiring as a Major in 1982. Most of those years he served in Unconventional Warfare assignments.
Dix was born in West Point, NY but was raised in Pueblo, Colorado. He always wanted to be a Green Beret and as a young man, read everything he could find on the subject (we can relate, a 1965 National Geographic article got read about 1000 x) and after he turned 18 in 1962, went to the Army recruiter and asked to join Special Forces. But SF didn’t accept first-term enlistees back then and so Dix joined the 82nd Airborne Division.
Dix spent three years with the 82nd, including a stint in the Dominican Republic during Operation Power Pack. After his hitch in the division was up, he finally got his chance to go to Special Forces and it wasn’t long before he earned the coveted Green Beret. He soon was on his way to Vietnam but not on a traditional A-Team. Dix had been loaned out to the CIA.
As a Staff Sergeant in 1968, the still 23-year old was already a cool customer and was mature beyond his years. He was assigned as a special military advisor to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). He was based in Chau Phu near the Cambodian Border.
There was supposed to be a three-day truce during the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, Tet but Dix knew something was brewing. He was right. The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong planned massive attacks during Tet and they hoped that the people of South Vietnam would rise up and join the “war of liberation” and oust the South’s government and the Americans.
In Chau Phu, on January 31st, the Viet Cong hit the city with two battalions of well-trained and experienced troops. They overran large parts of the city, and in many places overwhelmed the city’s defenses. Dix was in his element and went right into the action. He gathered a small force of indigenous troops and two Navy SEALs that he’d been working with and began a systematic approach to the issues plaguing the city.
He learned of an American nurse, who was working for the Vietnamese was trapped behind the Viet Cong lines. When they first reached her house, he expected the worst, her Land Rover was shot up and the house heavily damaged. But they called to her and unhurt, she ran out to her rescuers. One of the SEALs was killed by mortar fire, the other returned to his unit. This left Dix with his ad-hoc group of indigenous soldiers.
They moved from house to house rescuing civilians and consistently picking up more troops on the way. He learned of two Filipino men trapped in a house with several Viet Cong. Dix rushed the house under heavy machine gun fire and killed six of the VC while rescuing the two Filipinos. At each location with his growing band of fighters, Dix would leave two or three men so that they wouldn’t be attacked while returning.
His group swelled to more than twenty and by February 2, he’d been in combat non-stop for 56 hours. They attacked and freed a hotel, cinema, and other buildings that the Viet Cong had used as strong points. They freed the city and during the process had killed over 200 of the enemy. Dix himself had accounted for about 24. They’d taken several prisoners including a high ranking Viet Cong officer that was assigned to take and then administer the taken city of Chau Phu.
It was only after Dix returned to the United States when he was told by his commanding officer that he’d been recommended and approved for the Medal of Honor to be issued by President Lyndon Johnson. He had to ask his commander for which action was he being singled out, there’d been so many.
After the ceremony in the White House, Dix was promoted to 1LT and finished the final years of his career as an officer, retiring as a Major. His other assignments included being sent back to Vietnam as a Company Commander of A co, 2/502,101st Airborne Division. In addition to the 82nd, and the 101st, Dix was also assigned to the 5th & 6th Special Forces Groups, Aide to the CG of the JFK Special Warfare Center, aide to the CG XVIII Airborne Corps, the Joint Special Operations Support Element (JSOSE) at MacDill AFB in Tampa, FL, and the 4th BN, 9th Infantry at Ft Wainwright, Alaska.
After leaving the Army, he worked as a security consultant, ran an air service in Alaska, and served as Alaska’s Deputy Commissioner for homeland security. In 2010, Dix co-founded the Center for American Values in Pueblo, Colorado.
In 2000, he wrote a memoir about the fight for Chau Phu entitled The Rescue of River City.
Medal of Honor Citation:
The President of the United States in the name of the Congress takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor to Staff Sergeant Drew Dennis Dix United States Army for service as set forth in the following citation:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. SSG. Dix distinguished himself by exceptional heroism while serving as a unit adviser. Two heavily armed Viet Cong battalions attacked the Province capital city of Chau Phu resulting in the complete breakdown and fragmentation of the defenses of the city. SSG. Dix, with a patrol of Vietnamese soldiers, was recalled to assist in the defense of Chau Phu. Learning that a nurse was trapped in a house near the center of the city, SSG. Dix organized a relief force, successfully rescued the nurse, and returned her to the safety of the Tactical Operations Center.
Being informed of other trapped civilians within the city, SSG. Dix voluntarily led another force to rescue eight civilian employees located in a building which was under heavy mortar and small-arms fire. SSG. Dix then returned to the center of the city. Upon approaching a building, he was subjected to intense automatic rifle and machine gun fire from an unknown number of Viet Cong. He personally assaulted the building, killing six Viet Cong, and rescuing two Filipinos.
The following day SSG. Dix, still on his own volition, assembled a 20-man force and though under intense enemy fire cleared the Viet Cong out of the hotel, theater, and other adjacent buildings within the city. During this portion of the attack, Army Republic of Vietnam soldiers inspired by the heroism and success of SSG. Dix, rallied and commenced firing upon the Viet Cong.
SSG. Dix captured 20 prisoners, including a high ranking Viet Cong official. He then attacked enemy troops who had entered the residence of the Deputy Province Chief and was successful in rescuing the official’s wife and children. SSG Dix’s personal heroic actions resulted in 14 confirmed Viet Cong killed in action and possibly 25 more, the capture of 20 prisoners, 15 weapons, and the rescue of the 14 United States and free world civilians.
The heroism of SSG. Dix was in the highest tradition and reflects great credit upon the U.S. Army.
Photos: US Archives