President Donald Trump awarded the nation's highest military honor Monday to a Vietnam War veteran who saved wounded soldiers from a kill zone despite his own serious injuries.
Army medic Spc. James McCloughan, a 71-year-old from South Haven, Michigan, received the Medal of Honor for actions in combat. McCloughan's recognition, which took place at a White House ceremony, marked Trump's first time presenting the award.
McCloughan found himself in the two-day long Battle of Hui Yon Hill in Vietnam in 1969 when he was a private first class at 23 years old.
Officials say McCloughan willingly entered the "kill zone" to rescue 10 wounded and disoriented comrades despite his own serious injuries caused by shrapnel from a rock-propelled grenade.
The White House last month said McCloughan "voluntarily risked his life on nine separate occasions to rescue wounded and disoriented comrades. He suffered wounds from shrapnel and small arms fire on three separate occasions, but refused medical evacuation to stay with his unit, and continued to brave enemy fire to rescue, treat, and defend wounded Americans."
McCloughan recalled his shrapnel injuries as "a real bad sting" and said, "I was tending to two guys and dragging them at the same time into a trench line."
The retired medic said he looked down, saw himself covered in blood with a wound so bad it prompted a captain to suggest that he leave the battlefield to seek treatment.
"He knew me enough to know that I wasn't going," McCloughan said of the captain.
The combat medic stayed until the battle ended, coming to the aid of his men and fighting the enemy, even knocking out an enemy RPG position with a grenade at one point.
The Pentagon credits McCloughan with saving the lives of 10 members of his company.
The Medal of Honor is given to Armed Forces members who distinguish themselves by going above and beyond the call of duty in battle.
McCloughan previously earned the Combat Medical Badge, two Bronze Stars, the U.S. Army Valorous Unit Citation and the National Defense Medal, in addition to two Purple Hearts.
McCloughan left the Army in 1970. He later spent decades teaching psychology and sociology and coaching football, baseball and wrestling at South Haven High School. He retired in 2008.
In 2016, Defense Secretary Ash Carter recommended McCloughan for the Medal of Honor. But since the medal must be awarded within five years of the recipient's actions, Congress needed to pass a bill waiving the time limit.
President Barack Obama signed the measure in late 2016, but he didn't get the opportunity to recognize McCloughan with the medal before his term ended this year.
"President Donald Trump will be putting that on me for the first time in his experience of doing such a thing," McCloughan said. "That's pretty special."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.