ARLINGTON, Virginia- Medal of Honor recipient, retired Army Lt. Col. James “Mike” Sprayberry, spoke with employees of the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency (DPAA) in Virginia, Nov. 9.
Soft-spoken, humble and wearing his Medal of Honor around his neck, Sprayberry introduced himself simply as a retired farmer from Alabama.
Before his life as a farmer, however, Sprayberry spent a career in uniform, including a tour in Vietnam during 1967-68, with D Company, 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile).
His heroic actions in April 1968 during Operation Delaware in the A Shau Valley, earned him the Medal of Honor.
As the company’s executive officer, Sprayberry organized and led a volunteer night patrol to relieve one of the company’s platoons that had been cut-off and surrounded by an enemy force whose heavy fire had prevented an attempted rescue of the platoon’s many wounded.
Sprayberry neutralized several enemy forces, and then continued to safely direct the isolated men to his position. While evacuation of friendly forces was underway, he returned to the rescue party, established security and helped move the wounded. Over a 7.5-hour rescue period, he saved the lives of numerous fellow Soldiers.
During the battle, Sprayberry personally killed 12 enemy soldiers, eliminated two machine guns and destroyed numerous enemy bunkers.
On a recent November day in Arlington, however, Sprayberry spoke for an hour, in a packed conference room, about his time in Vietnam.
Three of the biggest problems in the Vietnam War, Sprayberry believes, were inaccurate maps, abysmal record keeping, which makes it difficult today to find missing Americans, and poor intelligence in the field.
“Although the Green Berets risked their lives gathering intelligence, that intel never made it to the field,” he said.
He also realized during the Vietnam War how well the Army Officer Candidate School (OCS) prepared him and other officers for combat. He noted the casualty rate among OCS graduates in the Vietnam War was only 12 percent, much lower than the casualty rate among graduates from the United States Military Academy.
Sprayberry had many complimentary things to say about the Vietnamese people, after a return trip to Vietnam several years ago. He respects and admires them greatly for the hard work they have done to get where they are today. He is proud of their accomplishments.
“The Vietnamese are proud of their country and have the same worries as us: like taxes, corruption, and school quality,” Sprayberry said. “They also take good care of their veterans.”
While in Vietnam, he met a Northern Vietnamese Army colonel by the name of Phoung, who served in the A Shau Valley for five years. Sprayberry felt extremely honored to be invited to Phoung’s house to meet his family, where the two former adversaries joked about shooting at each other during the war.
“The Vietnamese are now very accepting of Americans,” said Sprayberry. “They are curious and very forgiving.”
President Richard Nixon awarded the Medal of Honor to Sprayberry in October, 1969. When asked what he remembered most about meeting the president, Sprayberry recalled Nixon was very smart and had a great memory.
Today, Sprayberry remains an advocate for eight fellow soldiers still missing from that battle in the A Shau Valley, as well as two other Medal of Honor recipients that went missing during the Vietnam War.