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Enough is Enough: Lewiston hero showed undaunted concern for his comrades

By Robert E. Macdonald

Mayor of Lewiston

“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.” (There is no greater love than to give up one’s life for a friend/country.)  Thus is attributed to Marcus Tullius Cicero, Rome’s greatest orator.

On 19 March 1969, a son of Lewiston passed through the Gates of Heaven into eternal youth and life. His name was Thomas J. McMahon.

Tommy McMahon was born in Washington, D.C.  At some point, his family moved and settled into Lewiston.  Upon graduating from Lewiston High School in 1967 he joined the Army and became a combat medic serving with Company A, 2nd Battalion, First Infantry Regiment, 196th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division, Republic of South Vietnam.

In the Infantry, medics/corpsmen are reverently called, “Doc,” and they hold an elevated status with those whom they serve.  If you are wounded or hurt, they are Jonnie on the Spot to save and comfort you.  Once they stabilize you, they send you to the next stop:  a field hospital.

Spec 4 Tommy McMahon was awarded our country’s highest military honor, The Congressional Medal of Honor.  If you never served in the military, you look at this as a great honor, which it is.  If you served in an infantry unit, you may look upon it in a different light.

It is rare that someone who has served in combat does not question why their friends died while they lived. Military awards are bestowed for saving the lives of your brothers, not taking the lives of your enemy.  In saving your brothers, you may have to kill the enemy, but medals are awarded for the lives you saved, not those you took.

In the case of Medal of Honor living recipients, you cannot help but notice the pain in their voice as they relive the battle. They grieve for their dead brothers, saying the medal they have been awarded belongs to and should have been given to them.  Worse, many will suffer through life wondering if they fell short by not saving others who died in the action.

I want to give a public shout out to former McMahon School Principal Althea Walker. Prior to her taking over the McMahon School, a beautiful memorial to Tommy McMahon was on display in the school atrium. Yet very few students—and for that matter very few community members—knew of Tommy McMahon and why the school was named after him.

Althea Walker reversed that.  When the Vietnam Traveling Wall came to Lewiston, every McMahon student knew who Tommy was and why the school had been named after him.

Lastly, this is his Medal of Honor Citation:

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.  Specialist McMahon distinguished himself while serving as a medical aid man with Company A.  When the lead element of his Company came under fire from a well-fortified enemy position, 3 soldiers fell seriously wounded.  Specialist McMahon, with complete disregard for his safety, left his covered position and ran through intense enemy fire to the side of 1 of the wounded, administered first aid and then carried him to safety.  He returned through a hail of fire to the side of a second wounded man. Although painfully wounded by an exploding mortar round while returning the man to a secure position, Specialist McMahon refused medical attention and heroically ran through the heavy enemy fire towards his remaining wounded comrade.  He fell mortally wounded before he could rescue the last man.  Specialist McMahon’s undaunted concern for the welfare of his comrades at the cost of his life are in keeping with the highest tradition of the military service and reflect great credit on himself, his unit and the U.S. Army.”

Rest in peace.

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