MACV-SOG’S John Kedenburg posthumously receives the Medal of Honor.
On June 14, 1968 Recon Team Nevada was running for it’s life. The team had just had a violent firefight with NVA forces near highway 110 and had a estimated 500 man battalion on their tail.
The team is eventually encircled but due to the leadership of John Kendenburg, the team managed to shoot their way out of the trap. The team resumed their getaway with the NVA hot on their heels. Anytime the SOG men stopped to catch their breath and check their status the enemy caught up and another fierce firefight would ensue. Seeing that this couldn’t continue, Kedenburgh sent his men on ahead of him to an area to be extracted via rope.
As his men went on ahead , Kedenburg fought ” a gallant rear guard action against the pursing enemy” like a one man army. He put up such a aggressive fight that he was able to break contact and join up with the men at the pick up where he learned one of the indigenous team members was missing. Finding a hole in the canopy of the jungle he radioed for the helicopters to drop McGuire rigs for men since landing was not possible and time was running out to find a landing zone.
“A Huey dropped ropes, and lifted away four men. A second Huey dropped ropes. and Kedenburg and his last three men climbed into the four McGuire rigs. Then the NVA troops broke though supporting aerial fire just as RT Nevada’s missing Yard arrived, drawn by the sound of the helicopter.”
Without even thinking about it, Kedenburg unsnapped himself and gave his spot on the McGuire rig to the newly arrived team member and stood guard as he climbed in. “The young Green Beret turned alone to face the horde of onrushing enemy soldiers.”
Witnesses above in the helicopters said they saw Kedenburg kill six NVA soldiers before being hit multiple times and collapsing. The last airstrike went in right across and on top of the fallen Kedenburg.
For his actions John Kedenburg posthumously received the Medal of Honor. His friends said that he was so selfless anyone who knew him would say that his actions were exactly like something he would do.
When John James Kedenberg was assigned to Military Assistance Command Vietnam, Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG for short), the air of secrecy was still heavy around the military’s dealings with certain Communist forces in Vietnam. What this means is the teams that were sent on these classified strike missions to uproot Communist control were kept small, and had largely operated on their own. [The covert nature of MACV-SOG also withheld men like Robert Howard from receiving the Medal of Honor]
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Kedegnburg was serving with Recon Team Nevada in 1967 when his commander Dan Wagner was killed in action. Having somehow recovered his fallen commander’s body from the battlefield, Kedenburg earned himself the now-vacant leadership role of the Recon Team. Stationed somewhere in Laos, RT Nevada’s mission was to conduct counter-guerrilla operations within territory held by the North Vietnamese army and to impede the Communist movement into South Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. As was often the case on these sorts of Special Forces missions, the teams were made up of indigenous tribesmen led by US Special Forces advisers. Deep within enemy territory, 6 months into his role of leadership on RT Nevada, Kedenburg’s “shield arm” was put to the ultimate test.
Kedenburg and his men found themselves against near-impossible odds. Infiltrating a particularly hot enemy locale, they were attacked and encircled by a battalion-size force of North Vietnamese soldiers. Kedenberg quickly made the call for a Spare 39 – immediate extraction. Forward air control relayed back to Kedenburg the location of a nearby collection of bomb craters about 600-900 meters above their elevation – the teams extraction zone. Realizing their situation, outnumbered 50-1 and enclosed on all sides, Kedenburg knew there was only one way out (and it wasn’t in a Herbert Pililaau-style fight to the death). Intense firefight ensued as Kedenburg ordered his men to break to the extraction point, himself holding their rear-guard to give them the protection of his cover fire. Success in war does not come without cost, as one of the South Vietnamese team members had been lost from the sight of the team and presumed dead. Kedenburg and his men, having broken free from the enclosure of overwhelming enemy pressure, found their way to their extraction point intact.
Kedenburg knew one thing to be true – there wasn’t much time. The Team Leader set his men into a defensive perimeter around the craters. The plan was to airlift the team out to safety, the area was too hot for the helicopters to touch down. RT Leader John Kedenburg did what he could to secure the zone for extraction, calling in airstrikes from Tactical Air Support to allow the helicopters time to enter the LZ and airlift them to safety. He knew there would be time enough for a one and only attempt at their rescue. The first chopper came in and airlifted the first of their men to safety without any problems. Kedenburg and the three remaining South Vietnamese soldiers awaited their turn, continuing to stave off the ensuing NVA battalion with all they could. The second extraction unit arrived, the last soldiers on the ground saddled themselves within the slings and prepared for liftoff – that was when the Gods of War saw fit to test the integrity of Kedenberg’s warrior spirit.
Emerging from the bush like Sgt. Elias Gordon in the movie Platoon, out came the Vietnamese team member Kedenerg and his men had presumed dead. Unlike Willem Dafoe’s character in the fictional anti-war film, this man was real (and sometimes reality is more unbelievable than any fiction). He had a real life, he had a real chance to board that helicopter, and he had a real warrior guarding his back. Kedenburg, filled with valor (and likely adrenaline), did what you’re probably hoping he would have done. He untethered himself from the sling of the airlift and gave the last remaining line to safety up to his still-living team member. With his men secure, the Team Leader ordered the pilots to take off. Kedenburg stayed behind in that crater, his feet firmly planted in the ground – poised to bear his shield one last time.
As though in some sort of symbolic crescendo, the final airstrike of Kedenburg’s orders had been directed right onto his position. John Kedenburg, in his final moments, was seen killing 6 enemies before eventually falling – leaving his last impression on the North Vietnamese Army before resigning from the fight. His body was later recovered by another team. He’d apparently attempted to treat his wounds – morphine syringes and an attempted tourniquet accompanied his resting place. He’d also done his best to burn his Signal Operating Instructions and his CAC Code (used to encrypt and decrypt messages.) Kedenburg knew his duty, not just to his men but also his country, and these remains act as testament to the man’s commitment to his country.
Story by Wyatt Q. Public