USMC Vietnam Veterans Honored with Silver and Bronze Star

Sept. 23, 2013
By Cpl Benjamin E. Woodle

Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego -- Forty-six years ago, a company of Marines fought up Hill 881 South during the First Battle of Khe Sanh April 30, 1967, one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam conflict.

Courageous and heroic efforts were common, but with a 75 percent casualty rate, heroic actions of some Marines were left untold until two Vietnam veterans were awarded the Silver and Bronze Star medals at MCRD San Diego, Calif., Sept. 20, 2013.

Joe B. Cordileone was awarded the Silver Star medal and Robert T. Moffatt was awarded the Bronze Star medal with combat distinguishing device aboard the depot.

Cordileone, who was serving as a rifleman with Company M, 3d Battalion, Third Marine Regiment, 3d Marine Division, was advancing to secure Hill 881 South when his company was attacked by a numerically superior force. When his platoon leader was killed during the battle, Cordileone, a private first class, initiated multiple individual attacks against the enemy. The enemy’s accurate fire and snipers were having a devastating effect on the Marines, causing multiple wounded Marines to be scattered throughout the battlefield. Realizing the wounded had to be evacuated from the hill quickly, Cordileone unhesitatingly advanced multiple times to recover the wounded, repeatedly exposing himself to mortal danger.

“I was a 19 year old kid. I was scared and wanted to run away,” said Cordileone, currently the chief deputy San Diego City Attorney. “But my friends needed help. I thought ‘if I have to die I have to die, but I’m not going to let my friends down.’ I’d rather die than let down the Marine next to me.”

Even though he received serious fragmentation wounds and was fading in and out of consciousness due to loss of blood and fatigue, Cordileone continued to relentlessly attack the enemy and recover the wounded. His actions that day saved the lives of 10 of his fellow Marines.

Moffatt, a private first class, was also at the first Battle of Khe Sanh with Cordileone. Moffatt’s platoon leader was killed and every automatic and heavy weapon Marine was either killed or wounded. Serving as an assistant machine gunner, Moffatt unhesitatingly stepped up and took charge of a machine gun when his machine-gunner was mortally wounded. Moffatt continued to engage the enemy with suppressive fire, which exposed him to extreme danger, knowing that his fellow Marines needed his protective fires in order to sustain their counterattack. Moffatt continued to fire relentlessly until he sustained severe head wounds.

“We were just young Marines defending our country,” said Moffatt, who currently resides in Riverside, Calif. “We were doing whatever it required to save each other’s lives, including giving our own.”

Moffatt’s disregard for his own safety and courageous efforts by his continual suppressive fire support saved lives and inspired his fellow Marines to successfully press the assault.

BGen James W. Bierman, Commanding General, Western Recruiting Region and MCRD San Diego, presented the awards to the two veterans during morning colors ceremony. Bierman recognized their courageous efforts in front of the parents of the graduating Marines.

“How meaningful it is that the parents of these young Marines who are about to graduate from recruit training today get a chance to see what one Marine will do for another under the worst of circumstances,” said Bierman.

While the awards carry prestige, both Marines accepted their awards, noting they were just doing their job like every other Marine in that battlefield.

Their courageous efforts and actions are a testament of Marine Corps values and training that are continually given to this day.

“The Corps taught us discipline, self-discipline, how to face adversity, instilled the will to keep going and continue no matter what,” said Cordileone. “The Marine Corps showed me that there are things greater than myself. It made me part of a family that I could rely on no matter what the hardship, no matter what the cost.”

As the ceremony came to a close, Cordileone left simple advice to today’s Marines.

"Take care of each other,” said Cordileone. “We’re family, we’re brothers, never leave one behind.”