This story appeared in the Greendale Village Life (a former local newspaper) on December 6, 1990. It is about William Baumgardt.
22 YEARS LATE, MEDAL APPRECIATED
By Eva Augustin Rumpf
The date is Dec. 16, 1968. The place, Quang Nam Province in South Vietnam.
A squad of 10 Marines moves cautiously along a mountainous jungle trail, searching for enemy forces. The Marines approach a river and begin to follow their point man across.
Suddenly machine gun fire blasts from the dense growth on the opposite bank, critically wounding two Marines and knocking them helplessly into the water. A third is wounded near the bank and crawls ashore.
The 21-year-old squad lead, Cpl. William J. Baumgardt, and his men return the shots. Then Baumgardt plunges into the water twice to carry the seriously wounded men to safety, exposing himself to enemy gunfire. Baumgardt directs first aid and evacuation operations and the three men survive.
Twenty-two years later, on a bright, fall Saturday in Milwaukee, the courageous action of Greendale resident and Bay View native Bill Baumgardt was officially recognized. Family and friends gathered at the Marine Corps Reserve Center on South Lincoln Memorial Drive Dec. 1 to see Baumgardt receive a Bronze Star Medal.
Recalling the incident recently, Baumgardt said he didn’t have time to stop and think about what he was doing.
“It was an automatic reaction,” he said. “I was responsible for those men and I really didn’t consider the consequences.
“I pulled the first guy out and thought I was done. Then I looked up and saw the second man. Bullets were whizzing around me, but I knew I had to go back. All I thought about was his situation. I knew he was a sitting duck and didn’t have a chance in the water.”
After rescuing the men Baumgardt directed his remaining squad members to secure the area and make it safe for a helicopter to evacuate the wounded.
“There was no room for the copter to land in the jungle, so they had to let a harness down. The most seriously wounded man was shot through the chest, and I sent him up first. The other two had leg wounds and they went next. By that time it was nearly dark.”
Baumgardt then safely led the squad back to base camp, about three or four miles away. He still had to file his report of the incident.
“I guess I didn’t realize what I had done until I put in my report,” he said.
The Bronze Star can be awarded to a service person for heroism or meritorious achievement while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Sometimes, as in Baumgardt’s case, there are delays in bestowing the honor.
He believes that in his case the delay was just an oversight.
“Three days after the ambush at the river, I was wounded in another action,” Bill recalled. “I was medivacted out of Vietnam. Later I received a Purple Heart but never heard anything further regarding the Dec. 16 incident.”
With the passing years, other concerns took precedence in Baumgardt’s life. He returned to Bay View, majored in finance at Marquette University, married and fathered three daughters.
Then in November 1989, he went to Washington, D.C., for a 20-year reunion of Company F, 2D Battalion, 5th Marines. There Baumgardt met his former company commander, Lt. Col. D.B. Brown, and asked about the award. He learned that he had been recommended for a Silver Star Medal but had never received it.
Brown promised to have the Marine Corps headquarters research the case. Written accounts were collected from witnesses to the ambush and Baumgardt’s heroism. The reasons for the delay in making the award were never determined.
In September of this year, the citation for a Bronze Star Medal was approved and signed by the Secretary of the Navy,
The citation recounts the ambush and Baumgardt’s actions and concludes: “By his aggressive determination, valiant conduct, and loyal devotion to duty, Corporal Baumgardt reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”
“I’m extremely proud,” Baumgardt said on receiving the award, “and I’ll cherish it always.”
Baumgardt was born and raised in Bay View and has lived in Greendale for 20 years. After graduating from Bay View High School, he attended Milwaukee Institute of Technology (now Milwaukee Area Technical College) for two years and became a state wrestling champion. He enlisted in the Marines in 1967.
While at boot camp, he received a merit promotion to private first class for his high scores in physical fitness tests.