John C. Bahnsen Jr., 89, Dies; Fierce Commander During the Vietnam War

John C. Bahnsen Jr., a retired Army brigadier general who was awarded 19 decorations for valor during the Vietnam War, mostly for his swashbuckling, hands-on command of an air cavalry troop that saw heavy combat, died on Feb. 21 at his home in Rochelle, Ga. He was 89.

His wife, Peggy Bahnsen, a retired lieutenant colonel, confirmed the death. She said he had congestive heart failure.

General Bahnsen was among the most decorated combat veterans in U.S. history. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest honor for heroism, behind the Medal of Honor; five Silver Stars; four Legions of Merit; three Distinguished Flying Crosses; four Bronze Stars (three for valor); two Purple Hearts; and the Army Commendation Medal with a “V” device for valor.

He earned most of those awards during the second of two Vietnam tours, when he led a troop in the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment that was commanded by Maj. Gen. George S. Patton, the son of Gen. George S. Patton Jr. of World War II fame.

The younger Patton’s battle dictum was “Find the bastards and pile on.” Temperamentally, General Bahnsen, a major at the time, seemed perfectly suited for the job. As James Noe, one of his pilots, recalled, upon taking command of his troops, General Bahnsen asked, “Who wants to wrestle?” (Nobody did.)

He was also blunt in describing their mission: to kill as many North Vietnamese soldiers as possible, even as protesters back home called American troops “baby killers” and worse.

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