Archie T Van Winkle

Archie T Van Winkle

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Archie was born on the 17th of March, 1925 in Juneau, Alaska, and grew up in Washington state. He attended school in Darrington and was the captain of both the high school boxing and football teams and also played baseball and basketball. After high school, Archie attended the University of Washington for physical education until he enlisted in the US Marine Corps on the 14th of December, 1942. He was a radioman-gunner and mechanic for three years and participated in operations in the Pacific during World War 2. Archie's enlistment ended in October of 1945 and he went back to college, this time at Everett Junior College, to continue his studies in physical education. After two years, he switched to the University of Washington and one year later, Archie reenlisted in the Marine Corps.

On the 7th of August, 1950, Archie's battalion was mobilized, first to Camp Pendleton, California, and then to Korea. It was his actions during the advance to the Chosin Reservoir as a platoon sergeant that would earn him the Medal of Honor. The citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Platoon Sergeant in Company B, First Battalion, Seventh Marines, First Marine Division (Reinforced), in action against enemy aggressor forces in the vicinity of Sudong, Korea, on November 2, 1950. Immediately rallying the men in his area after a fanatical and numerically superior enemy force penetrated the center of the line under cover of darkness and pinned down the platoon with a devastating barrage of deadly, automatic weapons and grenade fire, Staff Sergeant Van Winkle boldly spearheaded a determined attack through withering fire against hostile frontal positions and, though he and all the others who charged with him were wounded, succeeded in enabling his platoon to gain the fire superiority and the opportunity to reorganize. Realizing that the left-flank squad was isolated from the rest of the unit, he rushed through forty yards of fierce enemy fire to reunite his troops despite an elbow wound which rendered one of his arms totally useless. Severely wounded a second time when a direct hit in the chest from a hostile hand grenade caused serious and painful wounds, he staunchly refused evacuation and continued to shout orders and words of encouragement to his depleted and battered platoon. Finally carried from his position unconscious from shock and loss of blood, Staff Sergeant Van Winkle served to inspire all who observed him to heroic efforts in successfully repulsing the enemy attack. His superb leadership, valiant fighting spirit and unfaltering devotion to duty in the face of heavy odds reflect the highest credit upon himself and the United States Naval Service.

Archie was first evacuated to Japan and then back to the States for medical treatment and he then served at the Naval Base in Bremerton, Washington, for a few months. He then left active duty and was transferred to the 10th Infantry Battalion of the Marine Corps Reserves in Seattle on the 16th of July, 1951. The following year, President Truman presented the Medal of Honor to Archie in a ceremony at the White House and the next day, on the 7th of February, 1952, Archie was sworn in as a Second Lieutenant under the Meritorious Noncommissioned Officer program.

He then attended Basic School at Quantico, Virginia, and then went on to the Air Observation School. Archie completed this in November of 1953 as a First Lieutenant and was assigned to the 3rd Marine Division at Camp Pendleton. For two and a half years, Archie, now a Captain, was the assistant officer in charge of the Marine Corps Recruiting Station in Indianapolis, Indiana, and in May of 1958, he became the commanding officer of the Marine detachment aboard the USS Newport News. Archie received his Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Washington in June of 1961 before being transferred to Hawaii.

In Hawaii, Archie was the company commander with the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 4th Marines, 1st Marine Brigade and became the director of the 1st Marine Brigade Schools and helped establish a brigade guerrilla warfare school in April of 1962. Before that, he was sent to South Vietnam as part of a special observer group in February of 1962 and was later promoted to Major in August. Two years later, Archie went to the Air Command and Staff College in Alabama, graduated one year later in June of 1965, and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on the 1st of July, 1967.

Archie was deployed to South Vietnam until September 1968. Here he was the commanding officer of 2nd and 1st Battalions, 1st Marines (consecutively) and received two Bronze Stars with V devices for his actions, one was on Hill 689 on the 6th of July, 1968. He returned to the States and served as the provost marshal at Camp Pendleton and then provost marshal of the Marine Corps before retiring in February of 1974 after thirty years of service.

Archie lived out his short retirement on a boat in Bar Harbor near Ketchikan, Alaska, where he died on the 22nd of May, 1986 at the age of 61. In 1996, a book by Joseph R Owen called “Colder Than Hell: A Marine Rifle Company at Chosin Reservoir” was published that depicted his actions and the actions of his unit during the Korean War.

If you remember back to episode 189 of this podcast, I told the story of Gregory Boyington and that he was honored on a memorial at the University of Washington. There was some controversy around the memorial as it was originally supposed to be a memorial to just him but the student senate had defeated this resolution stating that the University already had many monuments to “rich, white men”, even though Boyington had partial Sioux ancestry and was not rich. It was also questioned if the University should memorialize a person who killed others and “didn't believe a member of the Marine Corps was an example of the sort of person [the University of Washington] wanted to produce”. I bring this up because ultimately, the memorial was built and privately funded and it was decided to honor all Medal of Honor recipients that had attended the University. Archie's name appears on this memorial with the inscription, “Ordinary individuals facing extraordinary circumstances with courage and selflessness answer the call and change the course of destiny.”

Archie Thomas Van Winkle was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea in the Tongass Narrows, near Ketchikan. His cenotaph is in the Sitka National Cemetery in Sitka, Alaska, where his wife and daughter, Bonnie and Jan, who died of carbon monoxide poisoning on his boat three years after his death, are also buried: section Q, site 10.

Lee H Phillips

Lee H Phillips

Richard G Wilson

Richard G Wilson