Charles Ernest Hosking Jr. was a career soldier who fought as a U.S. paratrooper in World War II and then was one of the original Green Berets when the unit was created in 1952. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for Valor in the Republic of Vietnam for his actions on March 21, 1967.
Hosking leaped on the back of a Viet Cong prisoner who held a hand grenade. Holding the grenade between him and the prisoner, he gave up his life bearing the brunt of the blast but protected several of his commanders nearby who the VC was looking to take out with the grenade.
Beginnings and Itching to Serve: Hosking was born in May of 1924 in Ramsey, New Jersey. With World War II underway and before Pearl Harbor in 1941, Hosking ran away from home and hitchhiked to Canada. He enlisted in the Canadian’s famous “Black Watch” Regiment trying to get into the fight.
He eventually was tracked down by his U.S. congressman and others and being underage was shipped home. He then tried to join the Coast Guard with his grandfather’s permission but a heart murmur ended that venture as well. Undeterred, Hosking sought out his congressman, he received a waiver and was inducted into the U.S. Army in 1943.
But just serving wasn’t enough. Hosking volunteered for airborne duty and was assigned to Company B of the 509th Airborne Infantry Battalion. He joined them in Italy and served in the Rome-Arno, Southern France, and Ardennes-Alsace campaigns during the war in Europe. Of the 1500 men in the 509th, only 29 would serve the war and go without being killed or wounded. Hosking was wounded by machine-gun fire during the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes.
He missed serving in Korea due to a training accident when a bazooka round exploded and he suffered two broken legs and severe shrapnel wounds that required many months to recover from.
When Colonel Aaron Bank created the new Special Forces unit at Ft. Bragg, Hosking volunteered and served as a demolition or Engineer as well as a Weapons Sergeant on his A-Team. He was assigned to both Smoke Bomb Hill on Ft. Bragg and to Bad Tolz in Germany. He went to different training programs including language training and spoke Czech, German and Vietnamese.
Hosking served three different tours in Vietnam, in 1963, 1965-66 and his final tour in 1967.
On his final tour in Vietnam, Hosking was a sergeant first class in Company A of the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces Regiment. He was assigned to the Mike Force. On an earlier tour, “Snake” Hosking developed such rapport with the civilian CIDG strikers, both Cambodian and Chinese Nung, that many came out of retirement to rejoin the unit with the word that “Snake” was back in-country. He was a legend with the men that Special Forces had trained and led.
On March 21, 1967, he was working as an advisor to a Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) battalion in Đôn Luân district, Phuoc Long Province, when his unit captured a Viet Cong sniper.
Hosking was preparing the VC prisoner to transport to the A-Team’s base camp, when the man grabbed a hand grenade from Hosking’s belt, armed it, and ran towards the 4-man company command group. That consisted of four men, two American and two South Vietnamese officers.
Hosking tackled the prisoner and held him to the ground, using the VC’s body and his own to shield others from the grenade blast. He knew what that entailed. But in an attempt to save the officers’ lives he gave his own. Both he and the Viet Cong prisoner were killed in the ensuing explosion. Hosking was posthumously promoted to master sergeant and awarded the Medal of Honor for this action in 1969. President Nixon awarded the Medal to Hosking’s son Wesley at the White House.
Medal of Honor Citation:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Master Sergeant Hosking (then Sergeant First Class), Detachment A-302, Company A, greatly distinguished himself while serving as company advisor in the III Corps Civilian Irregular Defense Group Reaction Battalion during combat operations in Don Luan District.
A Viet Cong suspect was apprehended and subsequently identified as a Viet Cong sniper. While MSG Hosking was preparing the enemy for movement back to the base camp, the prisoner suddenly grabbed a hand grenade from MSG Hosking’s belt, armed the grenade, and started running towards the company command group which consisted of 2 Americans and 2 Vietnamese who were standing a few feet away.
Instantly realizing that the enemy intended to kill the other men, MSG Hosking immediately leaped upon the Viet Cong’s back. With utter disregard for his personal safety, he grasped the Viet Cong in a “Bear Hug” forcing the grenade against the enemy soldier’s chest. He then wrestled the Viet Cong to the ground and covered the enemy’s body with his body until the grenade detonated. The blast instantly killed both MSG Hosking and the Viet Cong.
By absorbing the full force of the exploding grenade with his body and that of the enemy, he saved the other members of his command group from death or serious injury.
MSG Hosking’s risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in the highest tradition of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country
He was buried in New Jersey and the Police Benevolent Association dedicated a monument to him in 2000 in Veteran’s Park on East Main St. in Ramsey, NJ.
Hosking’s daughter Gail who was just 17 when he died, had a hard time coming to terms with the war that kept her father out of the family’s life for so long and his death. But nearly a quarter of a century later, she wrote a book, “Snake’s Daughter”, in which she finally came to realize what a hero her father was.
Photos: US Army/ Don Morfe