Over these past several weeks we have lost several very popular figures, like David Cassidy (one of the Partridge Family for those youngsters out there) and recently, Rance Howard, father of Ron and Clint Howard, and an actor in his own right (see “Apollo 13,” “A Beautiful Mind” and so on).
However, we have lost some Medal of Honor awardees this year as well, though they are far less celebrated in the media—just recently we lost a true American hero. A hero that many have never heard of: Colonel Wesley L. Fox, United States Marine Corps. Colonel Fox, a Congressional Medal of Honor awardee and all-around American badass, died on November 25, 2017. For those of us who never had the pleasure of knowing him, this article represents our memorial to his legacy.
Born on a Virginia farm during the Great Depression, Wesley Fox was one of 10 children. After the Korean War broke out, Wesley grabbed his chance for glory and enlisted in the Marines at age 19. In a 2017 interview, Colonel Wesley spoke about his reason for joining:
When the Korean War started, I saw it as a chance to catch up to my cousin Norman, who’d jumped into Italy and Normandy in WWII. I knew I wanted to be a paratrooper or a Marine. A friend who’d been in the Army said: ‘You wouldn’t be happy in the Army. You’re the Marine type.'”
So it was on that fateful day when it was raining on the farm, Fox and his friend drove to Washington to speak with a recruiter.
“I told the Marine recruiter I was trying to decide between the Marines and the Airborne. He said, ‘Hell boy, what’s wrong with the Paramarines?'” What Fox didn’t know was that the Paramarines had disbanded during WWII in 1944. “If I’d seen an Army recruiter first, who knows? But that lying Marine got to me first,” he said.
That was August of 1950, and by the new year he was at war in Korea. By that September, Wesley was wounded twice and back stateside at Bethesda Naval Hospital. It was during his recovery that he made his decisions about his career in the Marines. He was practically begging to get back in the fight, but the Marines had other plans.
For the next ten years, Fox was a recruiter, a drill instructor, a member of 1st Force Recon and did a tour in Okinawa with the Pathfinders. When the Vietnam conflict began, Fox was assigned as a USMC security and honor guard platoon sergeant despite his desire to go to war, but his time would come.
According to Fox, “The Marines badly needed lieutenants, more than they could get through normal means, so they decided to select 5,000 NCOs for temporary commissions. I was commissioned as a second lieutenant while in Paris, then came back to the United States to prepare to go to Vietnam.”
As a member of Force Recon, now 1LT Fox was assigned as an XO of the South Vietnamese Marine Battalion; during his tour—much to his wife’s chagrin—he extended. His hope was that he would garner command of a rifle company and he got his wish, and much more.
Here is an excerpt from his Medal of Honor citation:
While serving as commanding officer of Company A, in action against the enemy in the northern A Shau Valley, 1LT Fox’s company came under intense fire from a large, well-concealed enemy force. As he and his platoon leaders departed to execute the plan he had devised, the enemy attacked and Fox was wounded along with all of the other members of the command group…”
“…Fox continued to direct the activity of his company. Advancing through heavy enemy fire, he personally neutralized one enemy position and calmly ordered an assault against the hostile emplacements. He then moved through the hazardous area coordinating aircraft support with the activities of his men.”
Fox recalled, “The best way to keep your cool is to keep thinking and doing things and don’t get locked into the idea you can’t do anything.”
When his executive officer was mortally wounded, 1LT Fox reorganized the company and directed the fire of his men as they hurled grenades against the enemy and drove the hostile forces into retreat. Wounded again in the final assault, Fox refused medical attention and established a defensive posture, and supervised the preparation of casualties for medical evacuation. His indomitable courage, inspiring initiative, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of grave personal danger, inspired his marines to such aggressive action that they overcame all enemy resistance and destroyed a large bunker complex.”
During that interview earlier this year, Colonel Fox commented on the action: “I get credit for my company overcoming the larger force, but I could never influence the whole company in that heavy jungle. We communicated, and it really paid off. That’s the reason we won on February 22.”
After 43 years in the Corps, Colonel Wesley Fox retired at age 62. He went on to continue his service at Virginia Tech where he taught America’s future generations of military leaders as the Deputy Commandant of Cadets. In addition, he wrote a book entitled, “Marine Rifleman: Forty-Three Years in the Corps.” Colonel Fox is survived by his wife Dotti and their three daughters.
During his last interview, Colonel Fox remarked on leadership in this way: “[w]e need to realize that leading others is what leadership is all about and it’s what our country and our communities need. Leaders have followers, not subordinates. Leaders care and do the right thing, not just for their personal benefit or for the bottom line, but for their team.
This nation has lost an incredible citizen-servant, a man with very few peers. We can only hope those who he instructed during his 8 years at Virginia Tech and during his 43 years with the Corps will work hard to fill the void this nation now carries with his eternal absence. Godspeed Colonel Fox, until Valhalla.
Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons