Heir to Walmart was Green Beret in Vietnam and Awarded the Silver Star

US Army Specialist 4 John Walton, or as you may remember him, John Thomas Walton of the Walmart empire, was assigned to Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observation Group or the notorious MACV-SOG back in 1968. He was stationed at Forward Operating Base (FOB) 1 in Phu Bai, where members of Strike Team Louisiana conducted deep penetration reconnaissance missions. As a member of a Special Forces Reconnaissance Team, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, Sp4 Walton was routinely conducting missions deep in hostile territory.

US Army Specialist John Thomas Walton

On August 3rd, 1968, in the A Shau Valley, his six-man recon team’s patrol was attacked by a numerically superior enemy force firing automatic weapons and grenade launchers. Surrounded and overrun by enemy NVA soldiers, the firefight became so intense that the team leader called an F-4 airstrike directly on their own position to break the contact. One of his team members was severely wounded and as the team’s medic, Sp4 Walton fought off the enemy while rendering life-saving medical treatment to the casualty. Later, when a grenade exploded inside the team’s defensive perimeter and temporarily incapacitated the team leader, Sp4 Walton assumed the job of directing airstrikes on the attackers. Although under constant and ravaging enemy fire, Sp4c Walton then administered aid to the casualties suffered as the battle continued.

CH 34 VNAF13
South Vietnamese Air Force H-34 KingBee

Three rescue choppers were alerted to extract the group. The first to arrive was an H-34 KingBee rescue helicopter, piloted by South Vietnamese Airforce Captain Thinh Dinh, to pick up the most seriously wounded. Walton carried the wounded team members through continuing enemy fire to the waiting ship. Bullets clanged off the chopper and whizzed by their bodies. After loading it up and watching it successfully lift off under heavy gunfire, Walton was told over the radio that the second and third helicopters were not coming as the landing zone (LZ) was too overrun by the enemy (hot). Captain Thinh, after hearing of the cancellation of the other rescue ships, dove his chopper back down and landed it back to within mere feet of Walton, who was fighting for his life in the clearing. The last remaining team members climbed aboard while the enemy ran towards their helicopter, firing with automatic weapons. With the entire team loaded, the weight was too much to take off so Thinh lifted the back wheel off the ground and started rolling his helicopter downhill, gaining as much speed as possible. At the last possible moment, Thinh nursed the aging KingBee over the trees. Walton’s determination to get his teammates out of harm’s way earned him the Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest award for valor. Specialist Fourth Class Walton’s gallantry in action was in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

John T. Walton died on June 27, 2005, when his custom-built experimental plane crashed in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. He was 58 years old. An investigation determined that loose flight control components were the cause of the fatal accident. Walton left behind a wife, Christy, and son, Lukas. 

Though Walton’s name will always be immediately recognized as the heir to the Walmart empire (at one point, he was the 11th richest man in the world, worth an estimated $18.2 billion), his legacy is also forever tied to MACV-SOG. Two years before his unfortunate death, Walton chartered his private jet to pick up Thinh Dinh and his family, whom he had stayed in touch with after serving together over three decades prior. They reunited in Las Vegas, never forgetting the lasting bonds forged in war.

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  1. Specialist Fourth Class?

    Never heard it called that when I enlisted in 1989 — the official rank was simply “Specialist 4” and it was always shortened to “Spec-4,” even many years after it was changed.

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