Toby Milroy was told to bring a blue sport coat to the recent biennial reunion of the 1st Battalion 50th Infantry Association.
Fortunately, he had one at home.
When he arrived at Fort Benning, Georgia, he was surprised by his younger sister, Susie Graves, and her husband, Grant. They all sat at a table in the back of the banquet hall but quickly were asked to sit up front with generals and their wives.
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“I still to this moment did not know what it was about,” the 71-year-old Seymour man said.
Soon, he found out when his former company commander, Dick Guthrie, presented him with the Order of Saint Maurice medal. The prestigious award is given by the National Infantry Foundation to infantrymen and those who support the infantry.
It’s named after the leader of the Roman Theban Legion in the third century. On July 19, 1941, Pope Pius XII declared Saint Maurice to be the patron saint of the Italian Army’s Alpini, a mountain infantry corps.
In 1996, the U.S. Army adopted Saint Maurice as the patron saint of the infantry and established the Order of Saint Maurice.
In May 2017, Seymour resident Randy Smith, who served with Milroy, received the honor. He passed away just three months later.
Milroy served during the Vietnam War from August 1966 to July 1968 and was a B Company senior medic.
“I was shocked. I was still in disbelief,” he said. “I am honored, and I will be for the rest of my life over it. It was special. It really was.”
After researching the details of the award, Milroy said he realized how big of an honor it is.
“Dick had tears in his eyes when he presented me with that,” Milroy said. “I knew then that it was special. I’m very proud.”
Guthrie said Milroy is “one of the finest combat medics ever to serve.”
“It isn’t unheard of, but it isn’t so common for medics to be inducted into this infantry order,” Guthrie said. “Toby is an exception because of his actions under fire, where he was a fearless mother hen, going wherever he needed to go to save lives. I’m plenty proud to have served with him and will want him back again should I ever have to defend our nation anew.”
Milroy said he grew up poor in Seymour, but his parents instilled “For God and country” in him that drew him toward serving in the military.
“For one thing, we had the draft back then, and I knew I was going to get drafted,” he said. “To be honest, I was born a Lutheran, my mother was born a Lutheran, and back in the ‘40s and ‘50s, it was ‘For God and country,’ so when my time came, I was proud to serve. I was going to enlist, but the Army got me, and I got drafted in 1966.”
At 18, after boot camp, he could either be a Jeep mechanic at Fort Knox or go to Texas to become a medic. He chose the latter and attended advanced individual training at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, where he was awarded combat medic MOS 91B.
From there, he was assigned to the 1st Battalion 50th Infantry (Mechanized) at Fort Hood, Texas. He arrived just in time to help prepare the battalion medical platoon for mobilization and deployment to the Republic of Vietnam.
Once he arrived there in 1967, he was assigned to Bravo Company as a senior medic.
During his tour in Binh Dinh Province, the battalion was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division, 4th Infantry Division and 173rd Airborne Brigade.
“As soon as somebody hollered ‘medic,’ that means that somebody was down, somebody was shot, and then I was the guy that had to run forward and drag them back or get to them and bring them back,” Milroy said.
“I was in firefights. I walked the line just like everybody else. I went out on ambushes two or three nights a week,” he said. “It was just something we did, and I was qualified in all of the machine guns and everything, but if somebody got hurt, that was my job, which was quite often.”
In a year’s time with his unit, Milroy estimated they were in combat 240 days.
“We were always getting shot at,” he said. “We were killing people. It might just be two or three guys at a time, but I was in 14 major battles where we killed over 600 guys at a time.”
Milroy said the Battle of Tam Quan in December 1967 was one of the worst.
“I had 12 guys killed right beside me, and I was still alive,” he said. “We had 37 wounded, but in that battle, we ended up having 67 killed, and we killed over 650. It’s unbelievable.”
Trenches had to be dug out to bury the enemy dead in a mass grave, he said.
“The enemy was trying so hard to split the country in two where I was. That’s why we were in so much combat,” he said. “They thought if we could take control of this area, it’s going to slow the war down, it’s going to be over.”
In the end, Milroy said his unit lost 344 men. As a medic, he also took care of the enemy wounded if he came upon them.
“If I could possibly drag him back without me getting hurt or if I get close and get him to a chopper, I would put the enemy soldiers right on the same chopper as our wounded,” he said. “They are human beings. I was working for the U.S. government over there. I wasn’t over there to kill anybody. My job was to protect myself and to save my life and save the guys around me, which I did my best.
“I felt good about when I put them on a chopper, I knew they were going to get back to a hospital or a battalion aid station, and they were going to live,” he said. “That was my job. It did make my heart feel good if I saved somebody.”
Milroy earned the Combat Medical Badge, Bronze Star for Valor, Purple Heart, Air Medal, Army Commendation Medal and several service awards.
He returned to his hometown and joined Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1925, serving in a variety of positions, including post commander. He also joined the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans.
Plus, he volunteered to assist veterans, including regularly taking them to a Veterans Affairs clinic in New Albany or hospital in Louisville, Kentucky.
“I’ve always tried to be kindhearted,” he said. “My mother brought me up that way to help people out the best I can.”
In 1995, Milroy, Guthrie and his former platoon leader, Brian Thomas, returned to Vietnam to visit as many of the 18 locations where they lost men as possible.
While there, they discussed if there’s anything they could have done different during the war to not have had as many men die.
“We came to the conclusion that war is tough,” Milroy said. “That’s how it happened.”
When he returned home from the war, Milroy said he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and had nightmares every night.
Returning to Vietnam nearly 30 years later, though, was a turning point.
“To stand there on that very same soil and look in front of you with all of the carnage … every tree has grown back, God brought it all back, you can’t even tell a drop of blood had dropped there,” he said. “I stood there and realized all of these nightmares I’ve had all of these years since 1967, to stand there with no fear, it changed me. It really did.”
Over the years, he said he has spent a lot of time visiting cemeteries where fallen comrades are buried. He also has been able to connect with the families of some of those men.