Medal of Honor recipient Richard Pittman, who traded his rifle for a machine gun to save many of his fellow Marines, has died at the age of 71.

“We mourn the loss of an American hero,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said on Tuesday. “Master Gunnery Sergeant Richard Pittman’s commitment to the country and his fellow Marines serves as an example for all of those who wear the uniform.  Our thoughts are with his family as we honor his courage and legacy of service.”

On July 24, 1966, Pittman was a lance corporal with 1 st Battalion, 5 th Marines when his company came under attack near the Demilitarized Zone in South Vietnam.

When his fellow Marines called for more firepower, Pittman grabbed a machine gun along with several belts of ammunition and “unhesitatingly rushed forward to aid his comrades,” according to his award citation.