Tech. Sgt. John Chapman was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor during a ceremony at the White House Wednesday afternoon.
“We’re gathered together this afternoon to pay tribute to a fallen warrior — a great warrior — Tech. Sgt. John Chapman; and to award him our nation’s highest and most revered military honor,” said President Donald Trump at the ceremony.
Chapman is the 19th airmen to receive the Medal of Honor and the first Special Tactics airman to receive the award.
Chapman died March 4, 2002, in the battle for Takur Ghar, a mountaintop in Afghanistan. During the battle, the helicopter carrying Chapman and the joint special operations reconnaissance team was ambushed and Navy SEAL Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts was thrown from the aircraft to the top of the snow-covered mountain.
After a crash landing, Roberts’ team returned to him in a second helicopter. Chapman immediately charged uphill toward enemy fire and took out enemy combatants, according to a news release from the U.S. Air Force. Even after he was critically injured, he continued to provide covering fire. He is credited for saving the lives of his teammates.
“In his final act of supreme courage, John gave his life for his fellow warriors,” Trump said. “Through his extraordinary sacrifice, John helped save more than 20 American service members, some of whom are here today.”
Six other men, including, Petty Officer 1st Class Roberts lost their lives in the battle.
Chapman was initially awarded the Air Force Cross, but a review of Air Force Cross and Silver Star recipients ordered by former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter resulted in a decision to award Chapman the Medal of Honor.
Chapman’s widow, Valerie Nessel, and their daughters Brianna and Madison were among the family members that sat front row at the ceremony. Military officials and politicians, including Congressman Matt Gaetz, and previous Medal of Honor recipients were also in attendance.
Valerie, Brianna, and Madison moved to the Northwest Florida area after his death. On Monday, Valerie and her daughter, Madison, were given a patriotic send-off from the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport as they flew to Washington D.C. for the ceremony.
Before the ceremony, the family of John Chapman met with the President inside the Oval Office. President Trump remarked that Wednesday had a “special meaning” since it was exactly 26 years ago that Valerie and John were married.
“Today it is our great honor to share his incredible story with the world,” Trump said.
Behind the podium, Trump motioned to Chapman’s daughters and said their father would be proud.
“I know he’s looking down on you, right now, from heaven proud of this day, but even more proud of the incredible young women that you have both become,” he said.
Chapman enlisted in the Air Force in 1987 as an information systems operator and later volunteered to be a special tactics combat controller. He was selected for a special duty assignment at the 24th Special Tactics Squadron, which is based at Hurlburt Field. After the terror attacks on September 11, Chapman volunteered to go to Afghanistan saying to his superior, “I need to go.”
“Our nation is rich with blessings, but our greatest blessing of all are [sic] the patriots like John,” Trump said. “(People) like John carry our freedom on their shoulders march into the face of evil and fight to their very last breath so that we can live in freedom and safety and peace.”