Marine Corps Vietnam Tankers Historical Foundation

Marine Corps Tankers Have Made History.  Your Foundation is Making it Known.



Staff Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps
Company B, 3d Tank Battalion, 3d Marine Division (Rein.) FMF
Date of Action: March 24, 1969


The Navy Cross is presented to Harold A. Riensche, Staff Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while serving as Maintenance Chief with Company B, Third Tank Battalion, Third Marine Division (Reinforced), Fleet Marine Force, in the Republic of Vietnam on 24 March 1969. Staff Sergeant Riensche and his four-man crew were embarked aboard an M51 Tank Retriever assigned the recovery of a disabled tank located near Dong Ha, when their vehicle detonated a mine and sustained extensive damage. While repairing the retriever, the Marines came under a heavy volume of automatic weapons fire from a North Vietnamese Army platoon occupying well-concealed emplacements in the tall elephant grass nearby. In the initial burst of fire which came from all sides, two of Staff Sergeant Riensche's crew were killed and two wounded, leaving him the sole defender of the retriever. Although in a dangerously exposed position, he commenced returning fire with a mounted .50 caliber machine gun. When a hostile round rendered the weapon inoperable, he moved across the top of the tracked vehicle to an M-60 machine gun, removed it from its mount and, standing in full view of the enemy, continued firing at the advancing North Vietnamese. When the barrel vibrated loose and fell from his weapon, Staff Sergeant Riensche caught the red hot cylinder in mid air and, while reinserting it, sustained serious burns to his hands. Ignoring his painful injury, he resolutely resumed firing all around his vehicle until the machine gun malfunctioned. While attempting to correct the difficulty, he observed a hostile soldier who had maneuvered to a point next to the recovery vehicle and quickly killed the man with his .45 caliber pistol. Unable to pinpoint the location of each North Vietnamese soldier in the gathering darkness, he then commenced throwing hand grenades in all directions, forcing the enemy to withdraw. Following their retreat with grenade launcher fire, Staff Sergeant Riensche, although still a very vulnerable target and vastly outnumbered, tenaciously manned his hazardous position and continued firing on possible hostile emplacements until a friendly tank arrived to render assistance. His heroic and decisive action inspired all who observed him and saved the lives of two fellow Marines. By his courage, aggressive fighting spirit and selfless devotion to duty in the face of grave personal danger, Staff Sergeant Riensche upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
 Authority: Navy Department Board of Decorations and Medals

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