When President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act two days before Christmas, he also signed off on a provision buried down in the weeds to allow a Michigan man to receive the Medal of Honor five decades after the actions for which he earned it.
After years of wait-and-see and a push from his local congressional representatives, former Spc. Jim McCloughan, 70, was authorized to receive the military's highest award for his actions as a medic in Vietnam -- but now that the executive branch is knee-deep in a transition from the Obama to Trump administrations, the award is again on hold.
"We're just waiting to see what the next situation is going to be," McCloughan, who lives in South Haven, Michigan, told Army Times in a recent phone interview.
Army Secretary Eric Fanning signed McCloughan's Medal of Honor certificate on Dec. 27, according to his spokesman.
A photo of the signed certificate made the rounds online after a friend of Fanning's posted it publicly. Those posts have since been deleted from social media.
It is authentic, though, Maj. Christopher Ophardt confirmed.
The hitch is that once Fanning signed the certificate, it was sent to outgoing Defense Secretary Ash Carter's office for approval. The next step would be a final signature from the president, but with less than a week left in office, officials don't expect to pull off a Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House.
"Secretary Fanning is doing his part to keep that process moving forward, and was sharing the story of this remarkable soldier," Ophardt said. "The decision is the president's to make, and no official decision has been made."
McCloughan had not been told that Fanning had signed off on his award, but said he was staying patient.
"I’m anticipating that it will not be President Obama because of the lack of time that he has left in office," he said. "I just am waiting."
"A few more weeks"
In May 1969, McCloughan was a 23-year-old private first class medic with Company C, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment during the Battle of Nui Yon Hill, a gruesome two-day battle that left dozens killed, wounded or missing in action.
Jim McCloughan is in line for the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for valor, for his actions as a medic during the Battle of Nui Yon Hill in Vietnam.
Photo Credit: Courtesy photo via the Detroit Free Press
McCloughan survived with some grenade shrapnel and a bullet wound in his arm, but managed to save 10 people, he told the Detroit Free Presslast year.
He also earned two Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars with V device, the Vietnam Service Medal with three battle stars, and the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with palms and one oak leaf, among others, according to a December release from the office of Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who lead the charge to push through the award for McCloughan.
His former platoon leader put him up for a Distinguished Service Cross years later, after McCloughan returned home to teach high school. Carter bumped it up to a Medal of Honor last year, but the nomination ran into a stumbling block because the law requires the award to be given within five years of the service member's actions.
That's when Stabenow, Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., stepped in, adding language in the 2017 NDAA to grant McCloughan an exception.
Stabenow and her fellow Michigan lawmakers made a similar exception earlier in 2016 for retired Lt. Col. Charles Kettles, who received the Medal of Honor in July for his actions in a 1967 ambush in Vietnam.
McCloughan knew that the president signed the NDAA, he said, but no one had called to let him know that Fanning had signed his certificate.
Still, he said he trusted that Stabenow's office would continue to advocate for him once Trump and the prospective defense secretary, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, take office.
A member of Stabenow's staff confirmed to Army Times that the senator will keep pushing to get the award into McCloughan's hands.
"It’s been nearly 48 years," McCloughan said. "I think I can wait a few more weeks."