Peter Lemon Earned Medal of Honor in Vietnam War After Smoking a Joint.

Peter Lemon emigrated to the US from Canada with his parents at the ripe old age of two. He eventually enlisted in the US Army. At 20 years old in 1969, he was eager to go to Vietnam to stop the Communists. He took to Army life so well that he was put in charge of a squad.

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His idealistic fervor came crashing down when he got to Vietnam. Faced with ”fragging” (killing of officers), a negative view of Americans by the locals, and allied troops killing surrendering NVA troops, he quickly lost his zeal for war. He was assigned to Fire Base Illingworth, in Tay Ninh Province near the border of Cambodia. It was their mission to provide artillery support for other units in the area. It also made the base a target for the NVA, which was reportedly by design in order to draw NVA troops away from other units. With their available close air support, they weren’t as vulnerable as they seemed to the enemy. Most of the time.

March 31, 1970- April 1, 1970 – Spc4 Peter Lemon

On March 31, 1970, Lemon and his squad went out on a patrol in the local area before coming back to Illingworth that night to get some sleep.

Lemon didn’t sleep for long. The base’s ground surveillance radar picked up a large enemy force headed its way around midnight that night. American troops opened up on the force in the dark, just to tell the North Vietnamese Army it was being watched. Lemon and his men manned their positions, but they didn’t have to do much. That soon changed.

Everyone knew the enemy was out there waiting to strike, but no one knew whether Communists actually would strike. Still, they needed to sleep, so Lemon smoked a joint before bed…

In any case, Lemon didn’t fall asleep. It was just after 2 a.m. when he started to feel the effects of the drug. That’s also when 400 veteran North Vietnamese soldiers struck the base. The Americans were outnumbered nearly two to one, and their airpower advantage was negated by the dark night. They would have to fight and win or be overrun, no matter how high they were.

Blake Stilwell at Military.com

Peter Lemon charged into the fight without hesitation. Was it ‘legal’ for him to smoke a joint? No. But for troops in Vietnam it was common. He knew the stakes and he knew the odds, and in spite of being stoned, he fought valiantly. With machine guns, small arms, and grenades, he even took out a few NVA troops with his bare hands. For his actions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor- the only Canadian-American to receive one during the Vietnam War. The MOH citation reads in part:

When the base came under heavy enemy attack, Sgt. Lemon engaged a numerically superior enemy with machine-gun and rifle fire from his defensive position until both weapons malfunctioned. He then used hand grenades to fend off the intensified enemy attack launched in his direction. After eliminating all but one of the enemy soldiers in the immediate vicinity, he pursued and disposed of the remaining soldier in hand-to-hand combat.

Despite fragment wounds from an exploding grenade, Sgt. Lemon regained his position, carried a more seriously wounded comrade to an aid station, and, as he returned, was wounded a second time by enemy fire. Disregarding his personal injuries, he moved to his position through a hail of small-arms and grenade fire. Sgt. Lemon immediately realized that the defensive sector was in danger of being overrun by the enemy and unhesitatingly assaulted the enemy soldiers by throwing hand grenades and engaging in hand-to-hand combat.

He was wounded yet a third time, but his determined efforts successfully drove the enemy from the position. Securing an operable machine gun, Sgt. Lemon stood atop an embankment fully exposed to enemy fire, and placed effective fire upon the enemy until he collapsed from his multiple wounds and exhaustion. After regaining consciousness at the aid station, he refused medical evacuation until his more seriously wounded comrades had been evacuated. 

MOH citation excerpt

Eventually, Peter was promoted to Sergeant. For years, he did not wear his Medal of Honor. One day he realized it was awarded for fighting for his brothers in arms. Today he wears it to honor those men of his unit that didn’t come home.

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Featured photos from Peter Lemon via Military.com

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