Phoenix Medal Of Honor Recipient Remembered
Forty-five years ago a young Phoenix Marine gave his life in the Vietnam War, saving a fellow Marine. On Sunday, former classmates and veterans remembered Pvt. First Class Oscar P. Austin for his bravery and his life. Austin was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his sacrifice, and efforts are now under way to commemorate his sacrifice with a permanent memorial.
Austin is buried in a west Phoenix cemetery. His gravesite is in the military section, surrounded by headstones of fellow serviceman dating back to World War I. Sunday marked the 45th anniversary of Austin’s heroic actions. A little less than two years before that day in 1969, Austin was a senior at Phoenix Union High school.
"His family was going through a divorce, mine had gone through a divorce. So as kids we were just working a lot to help out the families," said Stanley Muldrow, a classmate. "Oscar was throwing papers, working at a laundromat. I was working at a grocery store just trying to make a dollar.
Muldrow enlisted in the Air Force. Austin chose to enlist in the Marines instead of waiting to be drafted, and one year after enlisting, Austin was in battle in Vietnam west of Da Nang
According to the Medal of Honor citation, Austin raced to the aid of a wounded comrade. As he neared the wounded Marine an enemy grenade was thrown. Austin leaped between the Marine and the grenade. Despite suffering critical wounds he turned and saw an enemy soldier aiming a weapon at the other Marine. Once again Austin threw himself between his comrade and the enemy, suffering fatal wounds.
Muldrow says that’s not something he would have expected.
"If you had known Oscar, he would be the last person in the world you think would dive on grenades," Muldrow said.
That heroism is a story that most people are unaware of, said Danny White, one of the organizers of Sunday’s service. He said even though there is a naval destroyer named after Austin and buildings in his birthplace in Texas bear his name, few in Arizona know about Austin’s story.
"And I knew nothing about this, so I took it as a personal challenge to learn as much as I could," White said. "I went online. There’s a ship sailing the seven seas, there’s structures in Nacogdoches, Texas, and yet it’s just skipped right by me."
White says he and others are working to have permanent memorial dedicated in Austin’s name. Muldrow said he would like to see all of Arizona’s Vietnam-era Medal of Honor recipients recognized.
"Not too much celebration has been done for the eight Medal of Honor winners from Arizona during that Vietnam eras. So this is an attempt to bring recognition to those honorable men," he said.