Former combat medic Charles C. Hagemeister, 74, who received the Medal of Honor after he raced through withering enemy fire during a Vietnam War ambush to care for wounded comrades, died Wednesday in Leavenworth, Kansas.
There are now only 66 living recipients of the nation’s highest award for valor in combat, according to the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation, which announced Hagemeister’s passing. A cause of death was not stated.
“Like so many Medal of Honor recipients, Charles Hagemeister put the lives of his fellow soldiers above his own,” said National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation CEO James T. Connors. “Under attack from fortified positions on three sides, he used his comrade’s rifle to neutralize an enemy sniper, soldiers and machine gun devastating his platoon with lethal fire.”
Hagemeister’s Medal of Honor actions took place March 20, 1967, in Vietnam’s Binh Dinh province. At the time, he was a specialist fourth class serving as a medic with 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division.
Hagemeister’s platoon was sent to secure a local village and prevent the escape of North Vietnamese regulars, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
As the Americans moved through the village’s graveyard under nightfall, the enemy surrounded them on three sides, and began firing from well-concealed, fortified positions.
Two soldiers were seriously wounded in the opening salvo, prompting Hagemeister to run through a hail of gunfire to provide medical aid. When he heard that the platoon leader and several others had also been wounded, Hagemeister crawled to them to provide lifesaving treatment.
As he tried to evacuate the wounded, Hagemeister was targeted at close range by an enemy sniper.
“Realizing that the lives of his fellow soldiers depended on his actions, [Hagemeister] seized a rifle from a fallen comrade, killed the sniper, [three] other enemy soldiers who were attempting to encircle his position and silenced an enemy machine gun that covered the area with deadly fire,” the citation reads.
“Unable to remove the wounded to a less exposed location and aware of the enemy’s efforts to isolate his unit, he dashed through the fusillade of fire to secure help from a nearby platoon,” the citation added.
When he returned with help, Hagemeister placed the men in positions to cover his advance as he evacuated the wounded.
Hagemeister’s actions were credited with saving many of his fellow soldiers’ lives. He was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Lyndon B. Johnson May 14, 1968, in a ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
“His commitment to service guided him through a successful, decades-long military career,” said Connors, the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation CEO. “The amazing lengths Medal of Honor recipients have gone to in order to defend our nation are stories that will be preserved and told by the National Medal of Honor Museum, and we owe it to heroes like Charles Hagemeister to make it a reality.”
Hagemeister was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, Aug. 21, 1946. He was the youngest of four siblings and graduated from Lincoln’s Southeast High School.
Hagemeister was drafted into the Army in 1966 while on a break from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, but he continued to serve until retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1990.
He is survived by his wife, Barbara, two children, and two grandchildren.