Looking for a Hero: Staff Sergeant Joe Ronnie Hooper and the Vietnam War

Looking for a Hero: Staff Sergeant Joe Ronnie Hooper and the Vietnam War

Looking for a Hero: Staff Sergeant Joe Ronnie Hooper and the Vietnam War

Looking for a Hero: Staff Sergeant Joe Ronnie Hooper and the Vietnam War


Widely acclaimed as the Vietnam War's most highly decorated soldier, Joe Ronnie Hooper in many ways serves as a symbol for that conflict. His troubled, tempestuous life paralleled the upheavals in American society during the 1960s and 1970s, and his desperate quest to prove his manhood was uncomfortably akin to the macho image projected by three successive presidents in their "tough" policy in Southeast Asia. Looking for a Hero extracts the real Joe Hooper from the welter of lies and myths that swirl around his story; in doing so, the book uncovers not only the complicated truth about an American hero but also the story of how Hooper's war was lost in Vietnam, not at home.

Extensive interviews with friends, fellow soldiers, and family members reveal Hooper as a complex, gifted, and disturbed man. They also expose the flaws in his most famous and treasured accomplishment: earning the Medal of Honor. In the distortions, half-truths, and outright lies that mar Hooper's medal of honor file, authors Peter Maslowski and Don Winslow find a painful reflection of the army's inability to be honest with itself and the American public, with all the dire consequences that this dishonesty ultimately entailed. In the inextricably linked stories of Hooper and the Vietnam War, the nature of that deceit, and of America's defeat, becomes clear.


With utter disregard for his own safety…

Joe Hooper’s Medal of Honor citation,
regarding his conduct during a battle in February 1968


After reading Staff Sergeant Joe Ronnie Hooper’s Medal of Honor file, you know the man was a hero. Before the war was over, he would be widely acclaimed as the war’s most highly decorated soldier, the Audie Murphy of Vietnam.

Joe was a squad leader in a unit officially designated Company D, 2nd Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, but informally known as the “Delta Raiders.” the Raiders were an unusual front-line rifle company. Hastily formed during the massive manpower buildup for Vietnam, many of its men were originally trained not as infantrymen but as cooks, clerks, mechanics, cryptographers, military policemen, and in other noncombat specialties. Some of the men, including Joe Hooper, had lessthan-stellar disciplinary records. a few even came to the unit directly from the stockade.

Now, in the early afternoon of February 21, 1968, under cloudy, misty skies that made visibility extremely poor, the Raiders were a few miles north of Hue, attacking across a broad rice paddy toward a well-entrenched enemy position dug into a small village.

The village was embedded in a dense tangle of trees, thorny vines, and bamboo, some of the latter shooting forty feet skyward. Advancing through such foliage under normal conditions was difficult, but doing it in combat against strongly held enemy positions verged on the impossible.

According to Joe’s detailed Medal of Honor file, as the company moved toward a river running parallel to the enemy’s first line of fortified bunkers, the enemy met the Raiders with intense fire from machine guns, rockets, and automatic weapons. the stream was about thirty feet wide and up to five feet deep in some places but easily fordable in others. Beyond the stream was an . . .

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