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Profile: Melvin Garten

An example of the Distinguished Service Cross that Col. Garten received as a Major in 1952. (Source: Wikimedia)

Melvin Garten served in 3 different wars throughout the twentieth century. Born on May 20, 1921, Garten attended City College in New York. At the start of World War II, he enlisted in the Army as a paratrooper. He attended Officer Candidate School in Georgia, and then deployed to Europe. While deployed, he helped with rescue efforts that saved thousands of lives from a Japanese prison camp in the Philippines. Even so, his most recognized achievement was not until the Korean War.

When the Korean War began, Melvin Garten reenlisted, and was sent overseas. At this point he was a Captain, and served as a company commander. On October 30, 1952, Captain Garten learned of two American companies who were trapped behind a hill, unable to escape enemy fire. He grabbed whatever weapons he could carry, and rushed up the hill to find 8 soldiers still alive. He distributed the ammunition, and stormed the enemy territory to gain control of the situation. Captain Garten was successful, and defended the hill from counter attacks until backup could arrive. Amazingly, he was not injured during this incident.

Melvin Garten later received a promotion to Major, and was nominated for the Medal of Honor for his actions. Ultimately, he received the Distinguished Service Cross. His citation reads,

“Observing the assault elements of Company F and G were pinned down by withering fire on a dominant hill feature, he voluntarily proceeded alone up the rugged slope and reaching the besieged troops found that the key personnel had been wounded and the unit was without command. Dominating the critical situation through sheer force of his heroic example, he rallied approximately eight men, assigned four light machine guns, distributed grenades and employing the principle of fire and maneuver stormed enemy trenches and bunkers with such tenacity that the foe was completely routed and the objectives secured. Quickly readying defensive positions against enemy counterattack he directed and coordinated a holding action until reinforcements arrived. Major Garten’s inspirational leadership, unflinching courage under fire and valorous actions reflect the highest credit upon himself and are in keeping with the cherished traditions of the military service.”

That wasn’t the end of his military career, though. Major Garten once again served in the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, he hit a Viet-Cong mine and lost one of his legs in 1966. He retired from the military in 1968 as a Lieutenant Colonel.

Throughout Col. Garten’s 30-year career in the military, he received other prominent awards and honors including 3 Silver Stars, 4 Bronze Stars, 5 Purple Hearts, the Legion of Merit, 2 Joint Commendation Medals, and 2 Air Medals. He was one of the most decorated Colonels in the U.S. Army. After his military retirement, Garten taught history and political science at the University of Tampa. On May 2, 2015, Melvin Garten passed away at age 93. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

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