Medal of Honor Monday: MSgt John Chapman

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john chapman
U.S. photo by U.S. photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Conroy.

Master Sergeant John Chapman received a posthumous Medal of Honor for courageous action during conflict in Takur Ghar, Afghanistan. He was the first Airman to earn a Medal of Honor for service during the War on Terrorism.

Background and early life

Master Sergeant John Chapman was born on July 14, 1965, in Springfield, Massachusetts. During his childhood, his family relocated to Connecticut where he eventually attended Windsor Locks High School. Two years after graduating, he decided to enlist in the United States Air Force. Chapman trained as an information systems operator and later joined the Information Systems Squadron at Lowry Air Force Base.

Deployed right into the enemy’s base  

In March 2002, MSgt. John Chapman served with the Navy SEALS in Operation Anaconda. The CIA and U.S. allies had a plan to oust Al-Qaeda and the Taliban from certain strategic regions of Afghanistan. The U.S. deployed nearly 1,700 troops into Shahi-Kot Valley, a Taliban stronghold. As might be expected, service members quickly discovered well-armed Al-Qaeda and the Taliban combatants. As U.S. helicopters landed, enemy forces greeted them with machine gun artillery. On top of that, the mountainous terrain offered the enemy snippers abundant cover. They shot from caves and crevices in the rocks, so the Americans had trouble spotting them.

medal of honor john chapman
Photo collage of U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Chapman. (Courtesy Graphic)

After an explosive struck a helicopter, Navy SEAL Neil C. Roberts fell from the aircraft and died. The aircraft landed. However, this put the other service members on board at risk of being hit. Adding to the mayhem of the moment, Roberts’s body needed to be recovered. MSgt. John Chapman contacted another helicopter to fly in and assist with evacuations. To defend the helicopter and the recovery team, Chapman had to shoot and take down numerous Taliban snipers, who continued their assault on the Americans and their allies. Running directly into the line of fire, Chapman took several hits. Despite his wounds, he continued to fight and successfully kill multiple enemy combatants. Unfortunately, the injuries he sustained were fatal. He died in action on March 4, 2002.

Valor medal upgraded

For his brave action, MSgt. John Chapman originally earned the Air Force Cross. The Air Force Cross is the branch’s second-highest military decoration for those who distinguish themselves with exceptional heroism in combat. Eventually, the then-Air Force Secretary petitioned to have Chapman’s recognition upgraded to a Medal of Honor. Video footage of the 2002 conflict surfaced and provided evidence that Chapman had fallen but regained consciousness and continued to fire at members of Al-Qaeda. Several years past before his Air Force Cross was upgraded. In August 2018, his valor medal changed from the Air Force Cross to a Medal of Honor. Chapman was also inducted into the Hall of Heroes and received a posthumous promotion to Master Sergeant. Watch more about Chapman’s life here.

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