Ken Harbaugh: Welcome to the Medal of Honor Podcast. I’m your host, Ken Harbaugh. In each episode, we’ll learn about a different service member who has distinguished him or herself through an act of valor.
Growing up, John Chapman was known as the ‘family clown’ in his family of 4 kids and 2 Air Force parents. His parents Gene and Terry met at McGuire Air Force Base in the early 1960s, so John might have seemed destined for the Air Force himself.
A varsity soccer player and muscle-car enthusiast, John decided to enlist at the age of 20. He volunteered as a Combat Controller, an elite Air Force specialty which works with Special Forces teams to integrate air support with ground operations.
In March of 2002, more than 15 years after he first enlisted, John was serving as the Combat Controller assigned to Seal Team 6.
It was the second day of Operation Anaconda, what would become the largest battle of conventional US troops in the Afghanistan War.
Seal Team 6 was on their way to a strategic high point to direct air assets. It was estimated that they would encounter two to three hundred lightly armed Al Qaeda fighters.
But when they landed, around 3am, they were instead met by closer to 1000 fighters and heavy machine gunfire.
Their helicopter was hit, damaging the team’s ability to return fire. Meanwhile, Petty Officer Neil Roberts was thrown from the aircraft’s ramp onto the ground below.
Heavily damaged, the helicopter withdrew, only to crash-land about 4 miles away.
Petty Officer Roberts was overwhelmed by enemy forces and executed, but the SEAL Team didn’t know that. They returned to rescue him.
When they landed, they were met with heavy machine-gun fire from enemy bunkers.
TSgt Chapman charged up a steep hill through thigh-deep snow and towards enemy fire to clear a bunker. He was struck by heavy enemy fire and wounded. The SEAL team believed he was dead and evacuated down the mountain.
But Chapman wasn’t dead - he was just unconscious. Drone footage, analyzed later, showed that he came to around 5:25am. He continued to fight, killing enemy attackers with his rifle and in hand-to-hand combat.
As the sun came up, Chapman heard two helicopters approaching - carrying a reaction force of 35 Army Rangers. He emerged from a bunker he had secured to provide cover fire, but was shot twice in the chest, and was killed.
Chapman was initially awarded the Air Force Cross for his actions. After a review, the Secretary of the Air Force in 2018 recommended that his award be upgraded to the Medal of Honor. He is the first airman since Vietnam to be awarded the medal.
The Medal of Honor Podcast is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Special thanks to Evergreen executive producers Joan Andrews and Michael DeAloia. Our producer is Isabel Robertson. Audio engineer is Sean Rule-Hoffman. Thanks for listening!