History Wars Vietnam War

Medal of Honor Monday: Oscar P. Austin

Oscar P. Austin embodied the very spirit of selflessness and courage. This is his story.
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oscar p. austin

Oscar P. Austin embodied the very spirit of selflessness and courage. This is his story.

A phoenix rises

Oscar Palmer Austin was born on January 15, 1949, in Nacogdoches, Texas. His family moved to Phoenix, Arizona, when he was still a child. Phoenix, an urban desert, presented its own challenges. Growing up in a neighborhood known as “Sugar Hill,” Oscar was no stranger to the hardships of life.

Despite these adversities, Oscar carried a buoyant spirit, a quiet determination, and an undeniable charisma. His schoolmates recall him as a jovial individual with an easy smile. But beneath his jovial demeanor was a keen observer. Austin absorbed the world around him and the harsh realities that it presented.

Austin was a normal teenager. He had dreams, he enjoyed playing basketball, and he even dabbled in boxing. But his carefree days were soon to give way to a calling of a higher order. The world beyond the deserts of Arizona was changing rapidly. The specter of a distant war loomed over the country. It was the era of the Vietnam War, a conflict that would indelibly change Austin’s life.

Oscar P. Austin Military training

At the age of 18, Oscar Austin chose to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps. In the spring of 1968, he found himself at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California.

The transformation from a civilian to a Marine is a grueling process. It’s designed to build physical strength alongside mental and emotional resilience, which can withstand the harsh realities of war. From early morning runs and rigorous physical training to lessons in discipline and duty, Austin quickly adapted to his new life. His resilience shone through, and he stood out as a strong recruit among his peers.

Austin was an excellent learner and rapidly assimilated the skills he was taught. He learned to carry out orders promptly. He studied marksmanship, and most importantly, he understood the value of teamwork and camaraderie. Austin forged bonds with his fellow trainees – bonds that would soon face the test of war.

After graduating from boot camp, Austin received his assignment to Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division. He traded the warm desert of Arizona and the drill fields of San Diego for the dense, humid jungles of Vietnam. His training had prepared him physically, but nothing could truly prepare a man for the experience of war. It was here that Oscar P. Austin’s journey from an ordinary young man to a hero would unfold.

One fateful morning in February

On the morning of February 23, 1969, an act of courage unfolded so profoundly that it would echo through the following decades. Austin’s outpost near Da Nang came under intense enemy fire. A fellow Marine lay wounded in a bomb crater, vulnerable to an advancing North Vietnamese Army sapper.

Despite the danger, Austin moved, not away from, but towards the firefight. With a sense of duty that silenced the cacophony of bullets and explosions around him, he hurled himself before the incoming grenade, shielding his wounded companion. The explosion claimed his life, but his heroism saved that of his comrade.

oscar p. austin plack
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Quinn Hurt)

A resounding echo of the legacy of Oscar P. Austin

The chaos of war did not swallow Austin’s selfless act. The Marine was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, which elevated his tale of bravery into the annals of military history.

His name, etched in stone at the National War Memorial Registry, carries a legacy heavier than the weight of any medal. It resonates with the ethos of the Marine motto.

Oscar P. Austin’s legacy transcends time and resonates within the hearts of those who don the uniform. His tale is recounted in hushed tones around the glow of campfires, in the rigorous courses of military training facilities, and in silent tributes at his memorial.

The story of Austin is a war film played out in the stark reality of life, his courageous act akin to the climactic scene that leaves audiences in silent awe. His ultimate sacrifice, made on a fateful February morning, inspires every service member to embody the enduring spirit of duty above self.