The soldiers sent to war, regardless if they received recognition and awards, are already heroes. They put their own lives at risk for the sake of others and fight for the nation’s causes. They are the embodiment of bravery and discipline whose minds and bodies were conditioned to act swiftly and accordingly based on the needs of the situation. One Medal of Honor awardee, however, had a slightly different story because he did his duties and more while high on marijuana. His name was Peter Lemon.

Born in Canada

Peter Lemon was on the list of those who gallantly fought for the United States, but he was born in Toronto, Canada. He was welcomed by the world on June 5, 1950, by a family of war veterans. He was two when his family moved to the United States after his father found a job in Alabaster, Michigan.

Peter C. Lemon. (

Peter would grow up surrounded by patriotism and anti-communist sentiment in Alabaster, so it was not surprising that he grew up as a patriot. After graduating from the Tawas Area High School in Tawas City, he volunteered to enter the United States Army before his 19th birthday. With his upbringing, Lemon was eager to help his country with the Vietnam War that was raging on at that time.

Entrance to the Army

Lemon entered Fort Knox for Basic Combat Training. There the recruits were prepared for the grueling and unkind jungles of Vietnam. While the others almost wanted to quit because of the exhausting training and never-ending pressure, Lemon enjoyed them. To him, the training was just another challenge that he had to overcome. Perhaps it was the way he looked at things that soon allowed him to be chosen as the squad leader, a role that he did not take lightly. His leadership resulted not only in him being at the top of their class but also his whole squad, and he did that by setting a good example for them. They also performed better than other units in all aspects of training.

Army file photo of Peter C. Lemon. (US Army, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

It was no surprise that Peter graduated with flying colors before being sent to Fort Polk, Louisiana, for Advanced Infantry Training which he also nailed. On July 24, 1969, he boarded a Trans-World Boeing 707 on his way to South Vietnam, more than ready to apply everything he had learned…

When Life Gives You Lemon

…or so he thought. When Peter Lemon boarded the plane going to Vietnam, he was but a hopeful, enthusiastic soldier ready to save the world. Things changed, however, after he spent several months in Vietnam and witnessed with his very own eyes the crimes and atrocities committed not only by the Viet Cong but also by his fellow soldiers and officers. His patriotism was challenged, and what he initially believed was a righteous war began to crumble down quickly, and all he wanted to do was get out of there.

Lemon became depressed, and his mind was flooded and overwhelmed with questions. That was when he found his relief by smoking pot, which helped him manage his depression.

Lemon was a sergeant in E Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division, a unit in the Illingworth Fire Base in the province of Tay Ninh. It was one of the few bases near the Cambodia border that aimed to provide artillery support to those units that were assigned far from their bases. Apart from that, Illingworth was also bait for Viet Cong troops because they were positioned in the middle of the jungle, which was a vulnerable place to be. However, air support was on stand-by in case of attack.

However, the Viet Cong was well-aware of the trap and would usually attack at night, knowing that the aircraft would less likely respond because they could possibly kill their own troops.

A Sour Lemon for the ‘Cong’

Lemon and his friends would usually spend their idle times at the base smoking marijuana, trying to speed up time and hopefully fast forward to when they were about to go home. The night of March 31 seemed like every other peaceful and boring night in the jungle. Before midnight, however, their surveillance sensors picked up a large movement formation in the jungle, so base commander Lt. Col. Michael John Conrad already knew what was up: The Vietnamese were gathering to make an attack. He ordered his troops to open fire to send them a message that they were well aware of the night attack preparation.

Meanwhile, Peter and his platoon went out to their respective positions but headed back to sleep when nothing seemed to happen. They couldn’t sleep, though, knowing that there was an imminent enemy attack. Expectedly, they whipped out their marijuana and began smoking it, slowly becoming high. It was obviously a terrible idea, and it sure was as the first rockets hit their communication antenna just as they were getting high. Soon, a wave of 400 Viet Cong followed, accompanied by artillery and mortar shells. The 220 GIs had to defend themselves.

Lemon, currently on cloud 9, jumped out of his bunker and rushed to his position. In an adrenaline-and-marijuana-fueled enthusiasm, he manned a .50 caliber machine gun and opened fire on the swarming enemies until his gun jammed. He then took his rifle and resumed firing until it jammed too. When the weapons failed, he used his bare hands to kill his last enemy soldier.

Forty tons of 8-inch artillery shells were delivered to their base a day before, and they placed them on a pile in the middle of the base. When the Vietnamese shelled them, the pile exploded and clobbered both American and Vietnamese soldiers, including Lemon. When he got up, the first thing he did was help his wounded buddy and take him to the aid station. He then gathered some grenades and headed back to his assigned position.

He got hit by the enemy bullets as he headed back to his position, but he again disregarded it and continued to fight. The Viet Cong kept on swarming, so Lemon gave his sourest response by open firing using the nearest machine gun, and he did so until he passed out from blood loss.

Many of the troops of the Illingworth received Purple Hearts, Silver and Bronze Stars, two Distinguished Service Crosses, and one Medal of Honor, the latter one by Peter Lemon, who just proved that you could earn one even while high on marijuana (not to promote doing that, of course.)