Valor Friday

| August 19, 2022

Joe Hooper – He might be the most crazy looking MoH recipient ever

This week’s article comes by request. I’d previously touched on the heroics of Joe Ronnie Hooper in my “Most Decorated” series. While Major General Patrick Brady got the tip as the most decorated man of the Vietnam War (and by extension the most decorated officer and Army soldier), Hooper can lay claim to being the Army’s most decorated enlisted man of the war. Though you’ll note he’s an officer in the picture, but we’ll get to that.

Hooper was born in South Carolina but raised in Moses Lake, Washington. His father ran a dairy farm, which he helped operate from an early age. One of four children, Hooper’s father was a drunk. Where Hooper didn’t have a hero at home he found one in the cinema. He idolized figures such as Alvin York, Audie Murphy, and John Wayne.

He dropped out of high school in the first semester of his 11th grade year. He went to see the world by immediately that day joining the Navy. While at Moses Lake High, he had been a player for the school’s football and track teams. After boot camp he served as an airman aboard USS Wasp (CV-18) and USS Hancock (CV-19).

While in part of his aircraft training in Nevada, he was part of a team looking in the desert for a downed pilot. The team got lost and ran out of water. The officer in charge of the small group lost the ability to effectively command. Hooper stepped up and got them to safety.

While in the Navy, Hooper’s childhood behavior problems started to rear up again. He took up the family business of heavy drinking and was known to start fights. On shore leave once he and a shipmate got tattoos. Hooper’s was of a set of lips on his buttocks, so that “everyone can kiss my ass.”

In 1958 Joe met his future wife Sandra Schultz. After she got knocked up they married in the spring of 1959 in Reno, Nevada. In July of that year, Hooper passed (just barely) the GED exam. Hooper was honorably discharged as a petty officer third class in July 1959.

The young pregnant couple moved in with Sandra’s parents. Hooper got a job selling pans door-to-door. It turns out that he was a terrible salesman, his pay was low, and his marriage was already falling apart. They divorced in December, six days before their son Robert Jay was born.

Taking a job in a factor, he soon bored of the work and missed the structure of the military. In May 1960, Hooper switched to the green side of the service, enlisting as a private first class with the Army. He had intended to re-enlist with the Navy, but the recruiter’s office was closed. The Army recruiter across the street was still in, so he scored an easy stat for the month.

After basic infantry training Hooper volunteered for airborne school. Once done, he was assigned to the 325th Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg.

He was quickly promoted, first to corporal, and then, when he was in South Korea with the 20th Infantry Regiment, to sergeant. After a successful tour as a squad leader there, he went to Fort Hood for a year. He next went to Fort Campbell, where he was promoted to staff sergeant in the 502nd Infantry, part of the 101st Airborne Division.

By the time of his promotion it was September 1966. With the war in Vietnam greatly intensifying, he volunteered to head to the jungle. The Army, always wanting to be accommodating of every request a soldier makes, said “Ok!” His orders came through. He was to be a platoon sergeant in the 3rd Battalion (Airborne), 508th Infantry. In Panama.

Hooper liked the Army, but his issues with alcohol and a penchant for engaging in fisticuffs started to get him in trouble. A lot of it. Steve McQueen-level non-judicial punishment (NJP). He stood at several Article 15 hearings for things like leaving his post without being relieved, missing reveille formation, and being absent without leave. In Panama he went AWOL, immediately after his NJP for the same offense and stood before a summary court martial. The court martial would leave him a corporal, with his pockets $177 lighter, and a base restriction for 60 days.

By October Hooper was back up to sergeant and assigned to Company D, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 501st Airborne Infantry, 101st Airborne Division. He was a squad leader when they deployed to Vietnam in December. The company was a new addition to the battalion, part of a restructure adding a fourth company to each battalion as part of lessons learned from those already engaged in Vietnam.

Hooper’s company had only trained for six weeks prior to leaving, but they had a combat experienced captain. Prior to leaving, being a new company with several men like Hooper that had disciplinary issues, they had little training equipment. Hooper and some of the other men made a habit of creatively reappropriating material from their brother companies. This led to them being known as the “Delta Raiders”, a nickname that stuck to the company as they headed to Southeast Asia.

They arrived just in time for the massive communist operation known as the Tet Offensive. Hooper had been in Vietnam only a couple of months when he earned the nation’s highest award for gallantry in battle.

On 21 February, Hooper’s company was on a search and destroy mission. Traveling on foot near Hue through the thick, hot, humid jungle, the men came across equipment discarded by a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) unit from the night before. They estimated 100 enemy troops had been there and explored further to locate them.

As the Americans approached a river, the enemy opened fire on them. Under a withering hail of enemy fire from bunkers lining the opposite shore the men stopped. Despite the small arms, automatic weapons, and rocket fire, Hooper and another squad leader rallied several of their men and led them in an assault across the 30 foot wide river, through chest deep water, and into the enemy fortifications.

Hooper and his men engaged the first five bunkers, dispatching the enemy within. Seeing their crazy sergeant charge into battle, the rest of the company followed suit. They weren’t going to let Hooper get all the glory.

Moving up, they were once again halted by heavy enemy fire. This time, casualties started to mount. As the enemy fire continued in intensity, Hooper would move to the wounded and carry them to safety, with no regard for his own wellbeing. He even continued saving men despite being seriously wounded himself, refusing medical aid. After carrying the last wounded man to safety, Hooper only allowed a hasty bandage to his abdominal wound, picked up extra ammunition, and ran back to his men.

Hooper ordered a man forward to scout where the enemy fire was coming from. As he laid covering fire for his soldier, the man returned with information on three NVA bunkers just ahead of them.

Chaplain (Captain) William Erbach, in written testimony in support of Hooper, said when they were first pinned down at the river’s edge, “Sgt Hooper got up and led his men across the stream under severe enemy fire. This got the entire company moving, and soon Sgt Hooper was seen moving out alone under the fire to bring back wounded who were pinned down. In doing this he was wounded himself, but he refused evacuation and went back to his men after applying a hasty bandage to his wound.”

Hooper charged forward, alone, and attacked all three enemy bunkers. With hand grenades and his rifle, he killed all of the enemy within. Meanwhile, the chaplain was moving among the wounded, doing what chaplains do in battle, when he was directly fired upon and wounded. Hooper shot and killed both enemy soldiers that had targeted the padre and helped the holy man to safety.

Chaplain Erbach said that he was “wounded by a gunshot wound at close range. Sgt Hooper prevented the enemy from killing me by rushing to my position and shooting the enemy. He then helped carry me to the rear, and after making sure I was well cared for once more returned to the field.”

Hooper then led his men in a sweep forward. They saw three enemy run into a house. Hooper killed two with his rifle before arriving at the building. He grabbed an M72 LAW (light anti-tank weapon) and blew up the house. Two more occupied houses were firing on his men, so Hooper grabbed another LAW and blew both of them up as well. He’s credited with killing several NVA riflemen within those structures.

They continued forward, arriving at a trench line. Hooper, by now out of ammo, jumped inot the trench to reconnoiter it. As he did, he was attacked by an NVA officer, whom Hooper fought off and killed with his bayonet in some up close and personal combat.

Lonnie Thomas, a fellow soldier described the action thusly, “The [NVA] officer’s rifle jammed and Sgt. Hooper was out of ammo as the enemy tried to escape. But Sgt. Hooper chased him down and stabbed him with his bayonet.”

Returning, Hooper found his men under fire from a building up ahead. Grabbing grenades and rifle ammo, he charged it alone. Once again, this army of one launched into the fray, killing everyone in sight.

By now, Hooper’s earlier wound had been compounded by grenade shrapnel and God knows what else. He’d lost a lot of blood, but still refused treatment or evacuation, preferring to remain with his men.

As his squad arrived at the last line of enemy resistance they were once again stopped by a row of four enemy bunkers. Hooper grabbed up as many grenades as he could carry and, once more, charged forward. He ran along a trench line that connected the bunkers, tossing grenades into each one as he passed. He single-handedly killed all but two of the enemy troops within.

Only three more enemy fortifications remained. Hooper continued his assault, taking one out with an incendiary grenade and two more with his rifle. He then heard the cries of a wounded American in a trench, exposed to heavy enemy fire.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Hooper raced through the enemy barrage to come to the man’s aid, where he was faced with an armed enemy soldier who had been hiding. Hooper killed the man with his sidearm. He then carried his wounded comrade to safety.

Specialist Four Tex Gray was the man in the trench. He said his shoulder wound prohibited him from getting out of the trench himself. “Just then I saw Sgt Hooper running across the field toward me with bullets hitting all around him,” He testified. “When he got to me he set his rifle down and I noticed it wasn’t even loaded. He got into the trench to help me out and the bullets were landing right next to us. Just then someone tossed him a .45 caliber pistol and he caught it. But he set it down so that he could lift me up. Just as he did, a VC sprang up out of nowhere and aimed his rifle right at Sgt Hooper’s head. But Sgt Hooper grabbed the pistol and shot the VC about five times. The .45 tore gaping holes in the VC and there wasn’t much left of him. Then Sgt Hooper carried me back to safety after saving my life twice.

Thomas said that as Hooper started his rescue mission, “I called to him and tossed him a .45-caliber pistol, mentioning that he might need it. No sooner had he caught it and turned than he came face to face with an NVA raising a rifle to Sgt. Hooper’s head. Sgt. Hooper calmly shot the man dead with the pistol, then carried the wounded man back to safety.”

Returning to his men, Hooper attacked the final pocket of enemy resistance, fatally wounding three more. He then organized his men in a defensive line, ensured ammunition was distributed, and still refusing treatment for his many wounds until this was accomplished. He even refused evacuation until the following morning.

Sgt. George Parker (later a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross for actions in Vietnam in 1969), said in his lengthy eyewitness statement of what happened that day: “Sgt. Hooper in one day accomplished more than I previously believed could have been done in a month by one man, and he did it all while wounded. It wasn’t just the actual count of positions overrun and enemy killed which was important. But far more so was the fantastic inspiration he gave every man in the company.”

Chaplain Erbach said of the day’s activities; “As I was trying to inspire the men on the field I found that Sgt Hooper’s amazing bravery was the greatest inspiration possible and made hero out of timid men as they attempted to follow his example. I cannot help but believe that much of the company’s success was directly resultant from the gallantry and heroism of Sgt Hooper.”

Hooper’s valor had spanned a full seven hours. It was estimated he alone killed 23 men that day. He received the Medal of Honor from President Nixon at a White House ceremony on March 7, 1969 and was promoted to staff sergeant. It’s said that he even asked the President for permission to return to Vietnam.

Sergeant Edward Pettit, in his eyewitness testimony of the battle, “I know a lot of men were awfully afraid to go forward since the enemy fire was terrific and they had bunkers on every side. But the reason no one lagged behind was because Sgt Hooper was always out front, and it kind of shamed them and made them feel more confident at the same time. Sgt Hooper was wounded a few times but he just kept right on fighting. When we got to the final lines the NVA had real strong bunkers and they were pouring out very heavy fire. A lot of guys wondered how we were going to take the position when Sgt Hooper called out for everybody to cover him as he charged through the trenchline blowing up bunkers with hand grenades. He had SP4 Urban follow right behind him with his rifle to get what he missed. Sgt Hooper saved a lot of guys’ lives that day, and by himself killed more than the rest of us put together. Even after the fighting was over he didn’t go and get his wounds taken care of. Instead he made sure everybody else was taken care of and then he prepared the men for the next day’s fight.”

Present at the ceremony were members of his family and his company. Also present were his company commander Captain Charles McMenamy, his platoon leader Lieutenant Lee Grimsley (who received the Silver Star for the same battle as Hooper’s MoH), Sergeant Parker, and Chaplain Erbach (who also received the Silver Star for that battle).

Hooper had returned from Vietnam and was discharged from the Army in June 1968. He re-enlisted in September. Initially assigned to Panama again, he somehow scored his wish to return to Vietnam, despite regulations ostensibly excusing Medal of Honor recipients from seeing more combat.

Joe Hooper on Wonder Beach, Vietnam

Back in Vietnam from April 1970, he served with the 101st Airborne Division again, this time as a pathfinder. He had a reputation for being able to find the enemy. His experience finding troubles in bars across the world was apparently good experience. In December he was made a platoon sergeant and shortly thereafter a battlefield commission as a second lieutenant.

Returning to the States in April 1971, he was sent to the Infantry Officers Course at Fort Benning. After graduating that, he was an instructor at Fort Polk in Louisiana. Polk was the Army post that was used to prepare units for service in Vietnam, with similar oppressively hot, humid weather.

As the Army was drawing down forces, with most ground combat forces removed from the country in the next two years, Hooper was required to attend college. The man who barely got his GED and had been kicked out of more than one Army course for disciplinary problems unsurprisingly did not have an interest in higher education.

Hooper was forced out of the Army, despite wanting to finish his 20 years and retire, in 1974 as a first lieutenant. He immediately joined the Army Reserve’s 12th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in his home state of Washington.

In early 1976, Hooper transferred to the Army Reserve’s 104th Division (Training), also in Washington. Promoted to captain in March 1977, he only sporadically attended drills. The Army Reserve booted him in September 1978.

In addition to the MoH, he had received two Silver Stars, six Bronze Stars (at least one with “V” for valor), eight Purple Hearts, five Air Medals, a Presidential Unit Citation, and at least one Army Commendation Medal with “V” for valor. He is one of only eight men to have received eight or more Purple Hearts and one of only three to have received eight for service in Vietnam.

After the service Hooper went on to breed horses and teach a class on horse betting. He and his wife, Faye (who had married in 1972), also had a daughter. With the persistent anti-war sentiment, Hooper (and most all of our valorous servicemen) didn’t receive lasting glory from their wartime accomplishments. This was in stark contrast to the fame enjoyed by Hooper’s heroes like Audie Murphy (who had only received two more medals in WWII than Hooper had received). It is said that this led to a persistent drinking problem.

Faye and Joe Hooper

Other Medal of Honor recipients in the Seattle and Fort Lewis area tried to help him, but he just couldn’t adjust to civilian life. By all accounts he was a likable guy, just had a problem with the bottle and liked to fight.

Most Medal of Honor recipients are very humble. It’s said that Hooper was not. That crazed grin in the photo at the top of the article captures his spirit. I’ve heard from soldiers who served with him that he was more than happy to bring up his combat exploits and tell everyone about how he got the Medal of Honor. He would gleefully tell anyone that would listen about how the Army officially credits him with killing 115 of the enemy. I suppose, knowing that he sought the glory of his own “To Hell and Back” story, it’s to be expected of him.

Hooper was found dead in a hotel room in Louisville, Kentucky while attending the Kentucky Derby. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in his sleep on May 6, 1979. He was only 40 years old. What hundreds of NVA and Viet Cong couldn’t do, a small bleed in his skull did. He was survived by his wife Faye (1939-2020), his two children, and both his parents John (1907-1991) and Maggie Hooper (1904-1982). His daughter Joey was only three years old at the time. It appears as if both his children, Robert and Joey, are still living.

When I hear about men such as Hooper I’m always reminded of General Patton’s prediction at the end of World War II. It went something like, “I love war….Peace will be hell for me.” For Hooper, peace was hell. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Hooper’s bravery was little remembered after his death. In 1991, the the American Legion in Moses Lake was named in his honor. Perhaps someday there will be a movie about Joe Hooper and the Delta Raiders. There’s certainly enough there for an awesome jungle war flick.

In 2005 the University of Nebraska press published a biography titled Looking for a Hero: Staff Sergeant Joe Ronnie Hooper and the Vietnam War by Peter Maslowski and Don Winslow.

The book is partially described as containing, “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.”

I don’t know about that last part. Sounds to me like he earned it several times over that day. By reading the accounts of the men who were there and witnessed it, they thought he did as well.

Category: Army, Historical, Medal of Honor, Valor, Vietnam

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Man, what a man.


Thank You, Mason, for sharing this Valor story about an Unsung Hero.

His wife, Faye, was an Alabama girl.

In this 2014 WHNT, Channel 19 (Huntsville/Decatur Alabama) news story, Faye made this comment:

“He was a very nice man, he was very patriotic. He loved teenagers, he worked with teenaged boys that had problems,” according to Hooper’s widow, Faye Hooper, of Decatur.”

“We were driving along the California highway and this very small sports car had turned over and the fire department and everyone was shouting get back, get back, it’s going to explode, and he just goes walking over like nobody said anything and gets the young man out,” Mrs. Hooper told WHNT News 19.”

Yep. Hollywood definitely needs to make a movie about him.

His picture? Well…Never Judge A Book By Its Cover….

Salute. Rest In Peace, Sir. Never Forget.


Arlington has some interesting stories about Joe Ronnie Hooper and his struggles.

Still A Hero.

For all those who lie or embellish their Military service: Be Ashamed Of Yourself.

Thank You again, Mason, for sharing Joe’s story.

Prior Service

Wow. Got an ab workout this morning just reading this. Talk about intense. Thanks for posting.


DAAAYYUUM! A Warrior’s Warrior! That such men lived, indeed. Nothing like being shot all to hell and still bringing the dam dam down on your enemy, all the while saving your Comrades, not only organizing a defense, but also organizing and leading an offense. Plus you have that classic “bring every weapon to bear” mentality. Looks like the only thing he didn’t use was an e-tool. Surprised that he could move that well, dragging those big brass ones. I’ll bet that the breeeding horses were jealous.

Battery gun Salute for this Warrior. May he find his Peace, and plenty to drink, with his fellows Warriors at Fiddlers Green and Valhalla.

Great write up, again, Mason. Thanks!


What a hell of a man. I hope they honor his sacrifices with a movie or something similar someday. I’m sorry to hear about his drinking and difficulties getting back to a civilian life. It’s challenging sometimes.


This guy is impressive. Maybe someone can help me out. Why is his PH ribbon placed between the ARCOM and GCM? Shouldn’t it be placed above his Air Medal?

Maybe the order of precedent was different then?


Great question, Owen.

Maybe because the ARCOMs are ARCOMs with “V”?

Perhaps he did not know?


Great question, Owen.

Perhaps the ARCOMs are ARCOMs with “V”?

Perhaps he did not know?


It wasn’t until 1985 that the Purple Heart moved up in precedence to where it is today.


My uncle wore his after his arcom. He earned his in Vietnam. He may not have cared. Or it had a different precedent then. I’ll look into that. Makes the most sense.

Old tanker

A hero by anyone’s definition of the term. I am kind of reminded of another MOH awardee, in the Marines name Boyington. He stated, “Show me a hero and I’ll show you a bum”. Seems that those best suited for combat are less suited for life outside of the combat zone. RIP Capt. you sure as hell earned it. May you have found the peace you needed in life, in the hereafter.


Such hard-drinking, hard-fisted NCO’s were not rare in young Poe’s time in the Airborne. Here’s another one, Sgt Rock, previously honored here by yours truly:

Valor Friday. : This ain’t Hell, but you can see it from here (