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October 2, 2002

 

 

Honoring A Hero

Saturday, the city of Hampton will dedicate its new 117,000-square-foot office building to Ruppert Sargent, the city's only medal of honor winner.
Saturday, the city of Hampton will dedicate its new 117,000-square-foot office building to Ruppert Sargent, the city's only medal of honor winner.

Hampton to dedicate new building to Vietnam Medal of Honor winner

By Susan Friend Daily Press

HAMPTON -- About 35 years ago, Andy Greenwell - then head of Hampton's commerce department - received a letter, asking him to buy a wreath for the grave of Ruppert Sargent, a Hampton native killed in Vietnam and buried in Hampton.

Inside the letter were money orders totaling $230.

Buy the wreath and give the balance to Sargent's widow, the letter read. It was from Sargent's commander, now retired Army Maj. Watty Smith of Tennessee.

On Saturday, Smith will speak to the hundreds of people expected to gather as Hampton dedicates its new 117,000-square-foot office building to Sargent, the city's only Medal of Honor winner. The ceremonies begin at 2:30 p.m. in front of the building at 1 Franklin St. The building will house offices for Hampton public-school and city officials.

Smith will talk about his memories of Sargent, including Sargent's death, which Smith witnessed.

Smith and Greenwell have gotten to know each other well this year. In a letter to Greenwell in March, Smith called Sargent "the greatest American I have ever known." He told Greenwell of hearing a song about Vietnam that very day. "The words were, 'All gave some, and some gave all.' Lt. Sargent gave all," Smith wrote to Greenwell.

Greenwell, who headed the project to name the building for Sargent, calls Saturday "a personal milestone in what has been a 35-year journey for me." He will serve as master of ceremonies for the dedication.

Besides being Hampton's only Medal of Honor winner, Sargent also was the first African-American military officer in any service branch to be awarded the medal. He was given it posthumously for saving the lives of two of his comrades.

Sargent was leading a small group that included a captured Viet Cong soldier, who was providing information on enemy activity. During the mission, another Viet Cong rushed the group and was shot - but not before he threw two grenades. Sargent hurled his body onto the grenades as they exploded, saving his soldiers. He died from the injuries.

Sargent died in March 1967 and is buried in Hampton National Cemetery. He was born, raised and educated in Hampton.

"He was Hampton all the way," Greenwell said.

Also during the ceremonies Saturday, a bronze bust of Sargent - in full dress uniform, his cupped hands holding the two soldiers whose lives he saved - will be unveiled. It will be on permanent display in the lobby.

Steve Prince, an assistant professor of art at Hampton University, created the bust.

The keynote speaker will be Joseph Galloway, co-author of the book "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." The book was the basis for the recent movie "We Were Soldiers," starring Mel Gibson. Galloway served four tours as a war correspondent in Vietnam.

Hampton Mayor Mamie Locke also will speak.

Langley Air Force Base's 1st Fighter Wing will fly overhead, weather permitting. If it rains, the ceremonies will be moved inside.

Susan Friend can be reached at 247-7863 or by e-mail at sfriend@dailypress.com Copyright 2002, Daily Press

 
2002, by Daily Press
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