Medal of Honor: Airman Sacrificed His Life to Save Teammates

April 18, 2019

Air Force Tech. Sgt. John A. Chapman, a combat controller, is the 19th Airman awarded the Medal of Honor since the Department of the Air Force was established in 1947.

He is the first Airman recognized with the medal for heroic actions occurring after the Vietnam War.

 

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Sergeant Chapman was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for actions on Takur Ghar mountain in Afghanistan on March 4, 2002.

 

Valerie Nessel, the widow of fallen Air Force Tech. Sgt. John A. Chapman, accepted his Medal of Honor from President Donald J. Trump during a ceremony at the White House on August 22, 2018, on what would have been their 26th wedding anniversary.

 

Chapman sacrificed his own life to preserve the lives of his teammates during the Battle of Takur Ghar in Afghanistan on March 4, 2002. He fought with enemy forces alone in the early morning hours through brisk air and deep snow.

 

President Donald J. Trump presents the Medal of Honor to Valerie Nessel, the spouse of US Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, during a ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C., Aug. 22, 2018.

US Air Force photo by Wayne A. Clark

 

President Trump presented the nation’s highest award for valor to Chapman’s widow, Valerie Nessel, in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. Chapman is now the first special tactics airman to receive the Medal of Honor, as well as the first airman to receive the nation’s highest award for valor for actions since the Vietnam War.

 

After the 9/11 attacks, Chapman was part of a team of Navy SEALs taking part in Operation Anaconda, one of the most harrowing battles of the early days of the Afghanistan war.

 

In conjunction with Operation Anaconda in March 2002, small reconnaissance teams were tasked to establish observation posts in strategic locations in Afghanistan, and when able, direct US air power to destroy enemy targets.

 

Valerie Nessel, the spouse of US Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, holds up the Medal of Honor after receiving it from President Donald J. Trump during a ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C., Aug. 22, 2018.

US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank

 

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The mountain of Takur Ghar was an ideal spot for such an observation post, with excellent visibility to key locations. For Sergeant Chapman and his joint special operations teammates, the mission on the night of March 3 was to establish a reconnaissance position on Takur Ghar and report al Qaeda movement in the Sahi-Kowt area.

 

During the initial insertion onto Afghanistan’s Takur Ghar mountaintop on March 4, their helicopter took heavy fire during the initial assault, Chapman and the other SEALs volunteered to return and try to rescue a teammate, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts, who had been thrown from the helicopter onto the enemy-infested mountaintop below.

 

As a combat controller, Tech. Sgt. John A. Chapman was trained and equipped for immediate deployment into combat operations. Trained to infiltrate in combat and austere environments, he was an experienced static line and military free fall jumper, and combat diver.

 

Once on the ground, the team members found themselves in a ferocious firefight. Chapman was the first to charge up the mountain toward the enemy, and left the safety of a bunker he had cleared to assault a second bunker containing al-Qaeda fighters.

 

As he heroically engaged the enemy, he was struck by a burst of gunfire and became critically injured. Sergeant Chapman regained his faculties and continued to fight relentlessly despite his severe wounds.

 

Valerie Nessel, widow of Master Sgt. John Chapman, attends Chapman’s name unveiling ceremony at the Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va., Aug. 24, 2018. 

US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank

 

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He sustained a violent engagement with multiple enemy fighters, for over an hour, before paying the ultimate sacrifice. In performance of these remarkably heroic actions, Sergeant Chapman is credited with saving the lives of his teammates.

 

Through his extraordinary sacrifice, John saved more than 20 American service members.

 

A missing man formation flies over Master Sgt. John Chapman’s name unveiling ceremony at the Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va., Aug. 24, 2018. 

US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chad Trujillo

 

Nessel said that about two or three years ago, when the military was reviewing several cases of valor to see if they merited higher awards, she found out that the technology had advanced to the point that a closer, frame-by-frame analysis of the video of an MQ-1 Predator flying above the battlefield was possible.

 

That video allowed a closer analysis of Chapman’s actions at Takur Ghar, and was a key piece of evidence in the Air Force’s effort to upgrade his Air Force Cross to a Medal of Honor.

 

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Disclaimer: The appearance of US Department of Defense (DoD) visual information on this website does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement. 

 

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