Hundreds gather to honor veteran who received Navy Cross

Stunned, wounded and bleeding, the young Marine’s machine gun was broken and useless.

Another M-60 machine gun lay in the mud a few yards away, but it also was broken and useless.

As an overwhelming enemy force crawled in stealth-like fashion towards Lance Cpl. Ned Seath and his fellow leathernecks to deliver their certain death blow, Seath somehow saw through the pitch darkness of midnight.

As a few flares dropped from friendly aircraft faintly lit up the battlefield, Seath instinctively and quickly grabbed both broken machine guns, disasembled them, and put the good parts from the two guns back together to make one fierce, operational weapon.

Then, despite the pain he suffered in his leg and hand from being wounded by enemy, he pointed his own “new” weapon, and he let the bullets fly.

One enemy soldier was felled immediately by Seath’s burst of bullets.

Then another. And another.

As the seconds turned to minutes and as the enemy bodies literally piled up in front of him, Seath finally said hell with it. He stood up and continued to fire his machine gun, raking the onrushing Vietnamese force with bullet after bullet.

And just that quick, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) turned and retreated into the darkess.

When morning finally broke over blood-drenched battlefield, Seath’s fellow Marines and relief forces counted the enemy dead cut down by his heroic, one-man stand. It was estimated the young sharpshooter had stopped about 80 of the advancing NVA.

“I just kept shooting and shooting and shooting,” Seath said Saturday afternoon at a reception held in his honor in neighboring Lake County. “I knew I’d hit a lot of them.

Why they didn’t get me, I’ll never know. They certainly had the opportunity.”

That nighttime firefight took place in Vietnam in 1966. After years of lobbying by his fellow Marines, the U.S. Navy finally awarded Seath the Navy Cross on Feb. 11 at a ceremony at the National Museum of Marine Corps in Quantico,Va.

On Saturday, more than 200 friends and family members — including many from Manistee County — attended a reception in Seath’s honor at the Duane E. Dewey AmVets Post north of Baldwin.

For his “Courage under extreme fire and circumstances,” Seath’s Navy Cross citation reads, in part: “Heedless of his painful wounds, as his field of fire in the prone position became partially obscured by enemy casualties, Lance Corporal Seath stood up fully exposed as he continued the withering fire ultimately repelling the enemy assault.”

Family and friends express gratitude

As friend and family members took their turn to greet Seath personally on Saturday, Seath’s eyes slowly, but surely, began to redden with tears.

“Boy, this is nice,” the 67-year-old retired railroad worker said. “This is so beautiful. I’m so grateful.”

A burly, soft talking man, Seath was once offered a contract to play linebacker with the Detroit Lions. Friend after friend, family member after family member, asked about the bright medals he was wearing on his blue blazer jacket — the Navy Cross (highest naval military medal and most prestigious second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor), a Bronze Star with a Combat “V” inset, Good Conduct, National Defense, Vietnam Service, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palms, and a Marksman.

Seath was awarded the Navy Cross two months ago for his heroic actions on July 16, 1966, when he ingeniously recreated one good machine gun from two inoperable guns.

Incredibly, he was awarded the Bronze Star for his equally heroic actions the day before when he crawled beneath enemy sniper fire to pull another wounded Marine to safety.

“I took a bullet to my back that day,” Seath said. “But it didn’t get into me too far. Once I got the wounded Marine back to our area, I returned to ‘take care of’ the sniper. My M-60 nearly cut him in half.”

Finally sitting by himself for a few minutes at Saturday’s reception, Seath looked slowly around the large banquet hall, which was filled to capacity.

He waved at those he recognized.

Korean War Medal of Honor recipient Duane Dewey, who’s also from Lake County and whom the Baldwin AmVets Post is now named after, approached Seath.

“Congratulations,” Dewey said as he reached out his right hand. “You’ve deserved this (Navy Cross) all along. You deserve more. Congratulations.”

Again, Seath’s eyes began to redden and well with tears.

“Thank you,” he whispered. “This is such a wonderful day. Thank you.”