Sergeant Major James Caroll Gilbert was born on June 1, 1926, and was originally from Butler, Tennessee. He served his country in the Vietnam War in the United States Army, in HHC, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division. He was a 22-year veteran of the Army when his tour in Vietnam began on September 15, 1966. On March 12, 1969, he was killed under hostile conditions while aboard a helicopter evacuating wounded men from a combat site; he was 42 years old. SM Gilbert received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions at the time of his death. He is memorialized on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Panel 29W, Line 19.
Distinguished Service Cross Citation:
The President of the United States of American, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918 (amended by act of July 25, 1963), takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (posthumously) to Sergeant Major James Caroll Gilbert, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam, while serving with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division. Sergeant Major Gilbert distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 12 March 1969 while flying in a command and control helicopter with his brigade commander near Kontum. An ambulance helicopter evacuated a load of casualties from an infantry company in heavy contact with a battalion-size North Vietnamese Army force, but it was so badly damaged by enemy fire that it was unable to return for the remaining wounded. Realizing that the ground unit would be unable to maneuver until the injured men were extracted, Sergeant Major Gilbert urged the brigade commander to use his aircraft to complete the evacuation. He fired at the communists from the tree-top level and directed the fire of the door gunners on two flights to the landing zone. On both attempts, however, the infantrymen were pinned down by hostile fire and unable to reach the ship. Although the helicopter had received a number of hits in the fuselage, Sergeant Major Gilbert directed the pilot to fly over the North Vietnamese nearest the pickup site and exposed himself to a hail of bullets by leaning out and firing into the enemy positions. During an approach to the landing zone, automatic weapons fire wounded the pilot and door gunner, forcing the copilot to wrench the ship into a series of evasive actions. Sergeant Major Gilbert detached his seat harness and braced himself in the doorway to shield the brigade commander and bring the most effective fire against the North Vietnamese. He succeeded in silencing one emplacement and was engaging another as the helicopter was nearing safety when he was struck and killed by the hostile fusillade. Command Sergeant Major Gilbert’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty, at the cost of his life, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.