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Captain Joe Ronnie Hooper (August 8, 1938–May 6, 1979) was a Vietnam veteran whose combat decorations surpassed those of Lt. Audie Murphy or Sgt. Alvin York. He was the recipient of America's highest military decoration for valor in combat — the Medal of Honor.

During two tours of duty with Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, he was awarded the Medal of Honor (February 21, 1968 outside of Hue), two Silver Stars for gallantry, 6 Bronze Star for heroism, 8 Purple Hearts, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.

Due to the nature of the war in Vietnammarker, there were not as many medals available as in World War I and World War II — no allied medals, nor any victory medals.

He is credited with 115 enemy kills in ground combat, 22 of which occurred on February 21, 1968.


Joe Ronnie Hooper was born on August 8, 1938 in . His family moved when he was a child to where he attended Moses Lake High School.

Hooper enlisted in the United States Navy in December 1956. After attending Basic Training at San Diego, Californiamarker he served as an Airman aboard USS Wasp and USS Hancock. He was discharged in July 1959, shortly after being promoted to Petty Officer 3rd Class.

Hooper reenlisted in the United States Army in May 1960 as a Private First Class and attended Basic Training at Fort Ord, California. After graduating he volunteered for Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgiamarker and then was assigned to Company C, 1/327th Airborne Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolinamarker and was promoted to corporal during his assignment. He then served a tour of duty in Koreamarker with the 20th Infantry Regiment in October 1961 and shortly after arriving he was promoted to sergeant and was made a Squad Leader. He left Korea in November 1963 and was assigned to the 2nd Armored Division at Fort Hood, Texasmarker for a year as a Squad Leader and then became a Squad Leader with Company D, 2/502nd Infantry, 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentuckymarker. He was promoted to staff sergeant in September 1966 and volunteered for service in Vietnammarker. Instead he was assigned as Platoon Sergeant in Panamamarker with the 508th Infantry Regiment, first with HQ Company and later with Company B.

Hooper couldn’t stay out of trouble and suffered several Article 15 hearing, being reduced to Corporal in July 1967. He was promoted once again to Sergeant in October 1967 and was assigned to Company D, 2/501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell and deployed with the division to Vietnammarker in December as a Squad Leader. He returned from Vietnam and was discharged in June 1968. He reenlisted in the Army in September and served as a Public Relations Specialist. From July 1969 to August 1970 he served as a Platoon Sergeant with the 5th Infantry Regiment in Panama. He managed to finagle a second tour in Vietnam. From April to June 1970 he served as a Pathfinder with the 101st Aviation Group, 101st Airborne Division and from June to December 1970 he served as a Platoon Sergeant with Company A, 2/327th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile). In December 1970 he received a direct commission to Second Lieutenant and served as a Platoon Leader with A Company 2/501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile)until April 1971. Upon his return to the United States he attended the Infantry Officer Basic Course at Fort Benning and was then assigned as an instructor at Fort Polk, Louisianamarker

Despite wanting to serve twenty years Hooper was forcibly retired in February 1974 as a First Lieutenant, mainly due to the fact that he barely had a GED and had only taken a handful of college courses. As soon as he was released from Active Duty he joined the 12th Special Forces Group , an Army Reserve unit stationed in Washington state, as a Company Executive Officer. In February 1976 he transferred to the 104th Division also stationed in Washington. He was promoted to Captain in March 1977. He only attended drills intermittently and was separated from the service in September 1978.

Rumors persist that he became distressed by the anti-war politics of the time and took to excessive drinking which contributed to his death. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Louisville, Kentuckymarker May 6, 1979 at the age of 40.

Captain Joe R. Hooper holds a place with Sgt. Alvin York and Capt. Audie Murphy as one of the most decorated soldiers in army history. He remains the most decorated soldier of the Vietnam war. Captain Hooper is buried at Arlington National Cemeterymarker in Section 46, adjacent to the Memorial Amphitheater.

Awards and decorations

During the course of his 17 years of military service, Captain Joe Ronnie Hooper received 37 citations, including the Medal of Honor, the Silver Star with oak leaf cluster (one Silver Star citation began as a recommendation for a second Medal of Honor), the Bronze Star with combat distinguishing device (or "V") and 5 oak leaf clusters, the Purple Heart with 7 oak leaf clusters, the Air Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the Navy Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Navy Expert Pistol Shot Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Gallantry Cross and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. Captain Hooper also was awarded the Army Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon, The Republic of Vietnam Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon, the Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation Ribbon with Palm and the Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Unit Citation Ribbon with Palm. Captain Hooper also held the Combat Infantryman Badge, Master Parachutist Badge and Republic of Vietnam Parachutist Badge.

Medal of Honor citation

Congressional Medal of Honor

See also


  1. Article posted on Captain Hooper's Arlington National Cemetery profile. Accessed on 2006-07-10.


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