Roy Wheat's Family Remembers His Sacrifice

USNS LCPL Roy M. Wheat
USNS LCPL Roy M. Wheat

The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force.

Roy Wheat is the only Mississippian from the Vietnam War to receive that honor. The Moselle native was killed in action just two weeks after his 20th birthday, when he dove on a land mine to save two of his fellow Marines.

The Vietnam War memorial in Ocean Springs pays tribute to the 637 Mississippians killed in Vietnam and the 18 still missing. Roy Wheat is among those memorialized there.

His family members watched stories from the Vietnam War on the nightly news in the summer of 1967. The increasing casualty count gave them good reason to worry about their son and brother.

The youngest of the four Wheat boys shared memories of big brother around a dining room table covered with black and white photos and faded newspaper clippings.

"I would be the little one right behind there," said John Wheat, as he pointed to himself in a group picture of brothers.

"You can barely see me," he explained.

John Wheat, nicknamed "Cricket", was just ten years old when Roy enlisted.

"He just come home one day and said he's joined the Marines. That was it. Next thing you know, he was gone. I guess it was just something he wanted to do. And he done it," said the brother.

Roy Wheat's duty in Vietnam would last just six months. For the first time, the brutality of war made it's way into America's living room each night on TV. Families back home watched and worried.

"I remember we used to watch TV when we was kids and it got to where it was like, they'd give the numbers every week. And it just got higher and higher you know. Up to eleven hundred, twelve hundred a week. Dead bodies would be coming back. And that's just, boy they're killing off a lot of young people," John Wheat recalled.

Roy wrote to his family often. His final letter home was dated August 8th, just two days before he died. It reads, in part, 'I want you to take good care of yourself and don't be worrying about me because I am all right. Be good and sweet and keep going to church'.

"I think Roy knew he was going to die before he left here. I truly do," said historian Charles Sullivan.

The Gulf Coast Community College history professor produced a documentary about Roy Wheat in 1992. It's titled "No Greater Love". The young Marine from Moselle sacrificed himself for two of his buddies while on patrol protecting a Naval construction project on August 11, 1967.

"Roy, when he tripped that bouncing Betty mine, he told the two men, he said 'I've got it'. That was his last... that was the last sentence he spoke on this planet. And he fell on it. And it blew him to bits. And he absorbed the blast and the shrapnel and saved them," said Sullivan.

Roy's baby brother was just ten years old, but remembers getting the news. The family was attending a horse show.

"And I had noticed those Marines up in the stands. Shoot, I guess they was up there about thirty minutes or so, sitting around. And they came down and got us and took us all home you know. That's when everybody started coming to the house," he said.

Roy's parents received his Medal of Honor at a ceremony in Washington. The Hattiesburg post office named for Roy Wheat still has his Marine Corps uniform and medals on display. The public is proud to recognize a hero. But John Wheat wants folks to keep in mind what it cost.

"When you see a man there that's 19 years old, and you can look in the casket and his shoes are at the end of it. And his pants legs is neatly rolled up. It's, that's when you realize what war is," Wheat explained, while holding back tears.

Two flags fly over Eastabuchie Cemetery. The American flag and the flag of the United States Marine Corps mark the grave of Lance Corporal Roy Mitchell Wheat. He's a hero to Moselle, Mississippi and all of America.

There's an inscription from the bible on the Vietnam Veteran's monument in Ocean Springs.

It's the verse:  "No greater love hath a man, that he lay down his life for his friends".

That single sentence is the best summary of Roy Wheat's story.

Among the memorials to Roy Wheat is a U-S Navy ship named for him. The ship will be commissioned in Jacksonville, Florida on January 30th.