You might not know John Chapman’s name, but you should know his story.
During the Battle of Takur Ghar in Afghanistan in March 2002 — a battle known as Roberts Ridge — Tech. Sgt. Chapman unselfishly gave his life to engage an entrenched enemy targeting an approaching Quick Reaction Force helicopter. This, among other heroic acts that day, saved many lives and rightly earned John the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military distinction.
In the beginning moments of the mission, a rocket-propelled grenade ripped through the helicopter inserting John’s team and subsequently ejected his teammate Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts into a hornet’s nest of enemy activity below. The team crash-landed the aircraft nearby, reset, rearmed and returned to that ridge in a second aircraft. Even though they knew the location they were flying toward was an enemy stronghold, not attempting to rescue their brother was never an option.
Despite intense enemy fire, the team landed on the ridge. John immediately engaged, charging up a steep mountain path in thigh-deep snow in the direction of the closest enemy. He assaulted through and cleared the position, killing all enemy fighters. John moved from the bunker’s protective cover to attack a second hostile bunker, when he was struck and became unconscious. Believing John was dead, his teammates were forced off the mountain as casualties mounted under the unyielding hostile fire from three directions. Miraculously, John later regained consciousness and fought for more than an hour, in spite of being outmanned and critically injured. He was mortally wounded as he fought to protect the Quick Reaction Force helicopter and crew.
The Air Commando warrior spirit and ethos, epitomized in John’s efforts that fateful day in Afghanistan, is rooted in the origins Air Force Special Operations Command and was borne in part in the jungles of the China-Burma Theater during WW II. Much like the spirit shown in the Battle of Takur Ghar, those early joint air insertion missions behind enemy lines had their own losses that shook the team’s confidence. Yet, it was the British Air Commandos' pledge that reinvigorated the spirit of the mission when they claimed, “Please be assured that we will go with your boys any place, anytime, anywhere.”
John was not the only service member our nation lost in the Battle of Roberts Ridge. Seven members from three military services perished during the fight. This Medal of Honor represents every member of the team and the sacrifice they made that day.
To John’s family, despite your loss, you continue to serve with every ounce of your hearts. You have been there for countless others in need — where and when they needed you. You represent the best of our great nation. Your continued love, tireless support to the families of our service members, and great sacrifice will never be forgotten or taken for granted. We celebrate with you as John’s memory is properly recognized and lifted among our nation’s most heroic warriors.
Lt. Gen. Brad Webb is commander of U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command.