Valor Friday

| February 19, 2021 | 11 Comments

Then-Staff Sergeant William Bryant

KoB sent word yesterday about the family of Sergeant First Class William M Bryant donating his Medal of Honor to the JFK Special Warfare Center and School Headquarters at Fort Bragg, where it will now go on display. Source; WRAL

Bryant was born in the middle of the Great Depression, in 1933, in Cochran, Georgia, a small, rural town in central Georgia. As soon as he was old enough, he left the Jim Crow South for Detroit. A couple of years after that he decided to join the Army, doing so in 1953.

He completed basic training and Airborne School and was assigned as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. Bryant was drawn to the dapper fellas strutting around Bragg with fancy green French headpieces.

The US Army Special Forces (SF) had only been created in 1952. They’d only just (unofficially) adopted the green beret as their uniform headgear in 1955. In 1956 this had been outlawed by the Commanding General XVIII Airborne Corps after SF troops had drawn his ire in an exercise in Louisiana. The SF troops, trained to operate in small teams, behind enemy lines in irregular fashion as guerilla fighters took their unconventional tactics to the field in embarrassing fashion.

In Louisiana the SF troops created chaos. They turned street signs around, diverting convoys this way and that, totally upending the exercise. Incensed, the commanding general sent all the Green Berets back to Bragg and resumed the maneuvers. He issued the order nixing the Green Beret upon his return to Bragg.

Maintaining their unconventional role within the Army, SF troops continued to wear the beret surreptitiously. In 1961, newly elected President John Kennedy, signed an order making the green beret the authorized and exclusive headgear of the Special Forces.

I digress. During these years, Bryant served in several assignments in the US and aboard. First with the aforementioned 82nd Airborne and also the 11th Airborne Division and the 24th Infantry Division. He became a jumpmaster and graduated Ranger School.

Bryant joined the Special Forces in 1966. He would go on to receive his green beret and be trained as an intelligence sergeant and be assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group (SFG).

By 1968, now a sergeant first class, Bryant was in South Vietnam. Assigned to Company A of the 5th SFG, he was posted to a Vietnamese CIDG (civilian irregular defense corps). Acting as officer in command, Bryant led a team of American soldiers (known as an “A” Team in the parlance of the SF) who advised their South Vietnamese counterparts.

Special Forces units specialize in not just the aforementioned guerrilla-style infantry tactics, they spend a majority of their time training foreign allied forces. In order to carry out that latter mission, the Green Berets accompanied their Vietnamese allies on frequent combat patrols through the jungle looking for VietCong (VC) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) enemy forces.

Despite frequent contact with the enemy, it wasn’t until January 1969, after the CIDG had proven their combat effectiveness, that a weapons modernization program implemented. Until that time, most of the CIDG soldiers had been using M1 carbines and M14 rifles (when they weren’t using captured enemy AK-47s). They would now be getting equipped with M16 rifles, M60 machine guns, and M79 grenade launchers.

On March 22, 1969, Bryant’s firebase was attacked in force. Surrounded by elements from three enemy regiments, the next two days would be hard fought. During 34 hours of intense combat, Bryant would distinguish himself again and again.

As the men set up their defensive perimeter, Bryant moved from position to position. With no disregard for the voluminous enemy fire, he gave up cover to move among the company’s men. As he went, he was ensuring they were positioning their fire correctly, passing out additional ammunition, assisting the wounded, and above all, inspiring the men with his calm, decisive demeanor.

As the battle raged, the men began to run low on ammunition, so a helicopter resupply drop was arranged. When the chopper dropped its load it was scattered across the battlefield. Without hesitation, Sergeant First Class Bryant left his position of relative safety to retrieve the needed supplies.

It’s worth noting that the numerically superior enemy force would have seen the very loud Huey drop these boxes. Knowing they had the firebase surrounded and on their back foot, cutting off resupply would be a key moment in the battle. It’s thus very easy to surmise that the enemy focused particular attention on the dropped goodies and towards any man who’d dare venture out to get them. They weren’t prepared for SFC Bryant though, as he ran and crawled from box to box, collecting their lifeline.

An intelligence sergeant by trade, Bryant took advantage of a lull in the fighting by leading a patrol of men out of the compound, behind enemy lines to reconnoiter the enemy positions. This would have been a ballsy move under normal circumstances, besieged as they were, it could easily be his last patrol.

As they moved through the jungle the enemy detected them. Coming under intense small arms and machine gun fire, Bryant and his men were pinned down. As the enemy closed in, Bryant single-handedly repulsed one enemy charge on his position. By his heroic example, the men under his charge were inspired to likewise push the enemy back every time they attacked.

While pinned down Bryant saw, some distance away from his position, a wounded enemy soldier. Once again, Bryant’s intelligence sergeant sense tingled. He crawled to the man, under a barrage of enemy fire, to retrieve the man for intelligence purposes.

When Bryant found the enemy man was dead, he crawled back through the thick of the battle to his men and then led them back to the relative safety of the firebase. Once back at their post, Bryant again took command of the defense.

As the siege continued, Bryant decided to attempt to break out of the encirclement. Collecting a team of men, he personally led the charge to try and break through the enemy’s line.

Bryant led his men some 200 meters into the enemy through hard fighting. Once again the intrepid young sergeant found himself pinned down. The enemy had the assault force under heavy machine gun and small arms fire from fortified bunkers.

Severely wounded in his valiant charge into the enemy, he ignored his grievous wounds to rally his remaining men and to call in helicopter gunship support.

As the gunship rained thousands of rounds of vengeance upon the enemy positions, Bryant, though seriously wounded, rose and fearlessly charged an enemy machine gun position. In his one-man assault, Bryant overran the enemy and dispatched the three defenders therein.

His men, seeing their fearless and indomitable Green Beret leader continue to press the fight, they too rose and pressed once again heavily into the entrenched enemy.

Bryant was once again rallying and coordinating his men for another attack when an enemy rocket exploded, mortally wounding him. He was 36 years old.

Bryant would posthumously receive the Medal of Honor for his final battle. As the award citation ends;

“Sfc. Bryant’s selfless concern for his comrades, at the cost of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.”

No truer words could ever be spoken of a man such as Sergeant First Class William Maud Bryant.

February 16, 1971. President Nixon presenting posthumous Medals of Honor to the families of Cpl. T. Kawanura, SP4 D. Johnston, PFC D. Shea, Ssgt. K. Taylor, Lcpl. T. Noonan, Lcpl. L. Weber, PFC D. Bruce, 1st. Lt. S. Doane, 1st Lt. R. Poxon, SFC W. Bryant, Sgt. C. Fleek, Sgt. J. Holcomb.

Bryant’s family received the Medal of Honor on his behalf in a service at the White House in 1971, personally presented by President Nixon. On the 50th anniversary of that event this week, the Bryant family donated his medals to the JFK Special Warfare Center. The medal and Bryant’s photo are the first thing one sees when walking into Bryant Hall, the headquarters building for the school where Green Berets are made, named in his honor in 1973.

Bryant left behind a wife, two sons, a daughter, and his father (pictured above with Nixon). One of those boys, Gregory Bryant, is who donated his father’s medals this week.

Photos of the rededication event of Bryant Hall can be found here.

Category: Army, Guest Link, Medal of Honor, Real Soldiers, Valor, We Remember

Comments (11)

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  1. STSC(SW/SS) says:

    The picture says all it needs to.
    Brothers in arms and brothers in death.
    RIP Sgt Bryant and to all who give all.

  2. Sparks says:

    Rest in well-deserved peace, Sir.

  3. Dustoff says:

    The old saying “Where did we find such men?” certainly applies here. A hero, and a courageous American warrior.

  4. FarmerJones says:

    I am familiar with that action. Not to be picky, but the CIDG used the M2 carbine which could fire on full auto as well as single shot with a 30 round mag.

  5. OWB says:

    A grateful nation appreciates the sacrifice of so many for all of us. And special thanks go to the families of men like this gentleman for sharing them with us. May each of them know the peace their loved ones gave to us.

    RIP SFC Bryant. Your family did well by you.

  6. KoB says:

    Great write up on this Local Hero Mason, Thanks again!

    Maybe this comment will post?

  7. AW1Ed says:

    Hand salute. Ready, Two!
    Thanks again, Mason.

  8. Tony180A says:

    Thanks for posting this story. In 1986 the day before graduating from one of the last classes of the Strategic Reconnaissance Course run by SWC, my Company SGM paid me a visit at the schoolhouse. SGM Garfield Thomas (RIP) told me congrats on completing the course, get your greens together I have a job for you.

    That job consisted of driving him and Mrs Bryant to Raleigh, NC as he escorted her to lay a wreath at SFC Bryant’s grave. I didn’t realize just how big a deal this was until upon arrival seeing the Old Guard bus and throngs of media.

    Mrs Bryant was very gracious and shared some great heartwarming family stories about SFC Bryant during the round-trip drive from Fayetteville. This tasking turned out to be an honor.


  9. Matthew w says:

    I misread the first sentence of the story.
    I thought it was the Sgt that donated the MOH and thought he was going to survive.

  10. inbredredneck says:

    RIP, SFC Bryant.

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