Americans in Wartime Experience

James Livingston

Vietnam War

During November we celebrate the Marine Corps birthday, so its fitting that this month our featured veteran is Major General James Livingston USMC (ret).  He served his country in many different capacities as a United States Marine for over three decades to include two tours in Vietnam where he earned the Medal of Honor.

Born in southeast Georgia, James grew up on a farm, where at four years of age, he learned about hard work. As he grew up, he had many experiences that would help shape his life. Part of a graduating class of 26, James Livingston would become the first member of his family to attend college.

In 1961 while attending Auburn University working towards a civil engineering degree, James received his draft notice. After speaking with a friend who had had a bad experience with the army, James contacted the Marine Corps and met with a major at the university’s student union. In his dress blues, the major made quite an impression on young James who decided that if he had to go, he wanted to be one of them. After completing his training at Quantico and finishing his degree at Auburn, James received his commission in the Marine Corps Reserves, and would later become a regular officer.

Lt. Livingston’s first tour in Vietnam was in 1963-64. At that time not much was going on.  His second tour was in 1967-68 where things had changed a lot. After joining Echo Company, affectionately known as “The Magnificent Bastards,” and only being on the ground for 9 hours, Captain Livingston found himself in combat in the A Shau Valley. The area was so dangerous, half his company was issued body bags to take with them. Trial by fire it was.

Now a captain, James Livingston had two thing in mind as a company commander; to prepare his marines to fight, and to bring them home. And according to him, he was a “tough son-of-a-bitch” on the later. He said they got in some pretty serious fights, but nothing like he would soon get into.

At approximately 0300 on 2 May, 1968, the battalion commander called Captain Livingston in and told him that he wanted him to take the village of Dai Do which was heavily fortified. At 0500, Livingston got his company of 180 marines ready to go and instructed them to fix bayonets. They were able to take the village, but suffered a lot of losses. Approximately 14 or 15 marines were killed with many more wounded. After the battle, Echo Company had only 35 walking marines left.

During the assault, Captain Livingston was wounded “a number of times” by shrapnel and once by gun fire. Wounded and down, Livingston told two of his luteninetss to leave him behind with “all the weapons” so he could hold off the enemy while his marines pulled back. Two marines, also wounded refused to leave him. Together they fought their way out bringing other wounded and KIA marines with them. (To read the full details of the events that led to Captain Livingston earning the Medal of Honor, go to his MOH page at

Captain Livingston was medivaced to a hospital ship where he would undergo the first of seven operations on his leg. He spent the next three months in a hospital in Hawaii. He would receive the Medal of Honor as well as the Purple Heart for injuries he sustained that day after twice being struck by grenade fragments. He would be wounded a third time during the assault, but remained exposed to enemy fire in an effort to save his men.

James Livingston gave some thought to getting out of the Marine Corps after returning home from Vietnam. After talking it over with his wife, he decided to remain in. With her support, he became a regular officer and served his country, and his fellow marines, until his retirement in 1995. He would achieve the rank of Major General.

General Livingston says that he had the chance to grow up and live in a unique time in American history. “It has always been educational, and the memories are superb.” He considers it an honor to have grown up and live in the United States.

When you talk with him about his career, it becomes clear right away that General Livingston would rather talk about his fellow marines than himself. He took his role and responsibility as a leader extremely seriously. He says that when he reflects on those marines he lost under his command, he always thinks about what he could have done better to bring them home. It’s that devotion to his men that makes General Livingston beloved by those who served under his command.

In retirement, General Livingston continues to support his fellow marines and service members. He is a big supporter of the Americans in Wartime Experience and our mission to honor, educate and inspire. General Livingston’s life and career certainly do just that.

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The Americans in Wartime Experience explores the impact of war and conflict on America since WWI. It honors those who served in the military and on the home front and highlights the values they demonstrated in serving – duty, honor, and courage. It examines how periods of conflict have profoundly shaped American society. It educates visitors about the costs of war, both on a personal and social level. It challenges visitors to remember the service and sacrifices made by their fellow citizens to preserve and defend our freedoms. LEARN MORE

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