Just because you don’t have the best education doesn’t mean you can’t go on to do great things.
Such was the case for Marine Corps Private 1st Class Melvin E. Newlin. He didn’t have the ideal life growing up, but the actions he took in Vietnam to save his fellow Marines during combat made him a name to be remembered forever. For his sacrifice, he received the Medal of Honor.
Newlin was born September 27, 1948, in Wellsville, Ohio, a small town about an hour west of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Newlin’s parents, Joseph and Ruth, had seven more children and struggled to support them all, according to a 2004 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Thus, Newlin spent time in foster care growing up.
By his senior year of high school, Newlin had briefly reunited with his parents. According to his brother Joe, it ended after an episode of apparent domestic violence, he told the Post-Gazette. So the teenager Newlin moved in with Joe and his wife.
Newlin graduated from Wellsville High School in 1966 — the only sibling to graduate, another sibling, Richard, said.
In November 1966, Newlin was sent to Vietnam. According to a 1969 edition of the Ohio newspaper The Evening Review, he had been injured a few times in various battles prior to his actions that earned him the Medal of Honor. He was also given the option of accepting a desk job but declined, according to the newspaper.
On the night of July 3, 1967, Newlin’s unit was in an outpost on Nong Son Mountain, southwest of Da Nang, when about 400 North Vietnamese army and Viet Cong fighters launched a savage and well-coordinated attack. Newlin and four other members of his platoon occupied a key position on the perimeter of the outpost. Quickly, his four comrades are killed.
Newlin himself was seriously injured, but he continued to fight. Leaning against his machine gun, the 18-year-old blasted the charging enemy with a lethal blast of fire. Newlin was hit several times by small-arms fire, but his efforts repelled enemy attempts to overrun his position twice.
On a third attempt, a grenade explosion knocked Newlin unconscious. The Viet Cong guerrillas assumed he was dead, so they charged past him and continued their assault on the main force behind Newlin’s platoon.
When Newlin regained consciousness, he crawled to his machine gun and shot enemy soldiers in the back, who were knocked down by the unexpected attack. Newlin then noticed more enemy soldiers trying to use a recoilless weapon they had captured from the Americans, so he shifted his fire to these men, inflicting heavy casualties and preventing them from firing the captured weapon.
Newlin turned his attention back to the main enemy force. They were acutely aware of him now, so the enemy soldiers halted their assault on the Marines’ bunkers and turned their fire on him. Newlin repelled two more assaults before enemy fire finally killed him in the early hours of July 4, 1967.
Newlin’s efforts alone threw the enemy’s assault into chaos, causing it to lose momentum. The slowdown was long enough for more Marines to organize a defense and fend off the secondary attack.
For his selfless courage and unwavering devotion to duty, Newlin was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. President Richard M. Nixon presented the medal to his parents during a ceremony at the White House on March 18, 1969.
Newlin’s remains were returned to the United States and interred in Spring Hill Cemetery in his hometown. His medal was eventually donated to the Soldier’s Museum in La Porte, Indiana.
Newlin’s name is recognizable to the residents of his town and to the Marines serving today. The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab is located at Newlin Hall in Quantico, Virginia. A stretch of highway between his hometown of Wellsville and East Liverpool, Ohio was also named in his honor.
This article is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday”, in which we highlight one of more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have won the highest medal of bravery in the US army.