Nearly 50 years after the US evacuated its last personnel from war-torn Vietnam, a decorated Marietta Special Forces officer's heroic acts remain shrouded in secrecy.
The headstone in the Marietta National Cemetery of Lt. Col. W.A. "Alex" Phelps includes the long list of citations and decorations he earned for bravery and outstanding service to his country. Serving four tours of duty in Special Forces as an Airborne Ranger and Airborne Special Forces, Phelps was one of the highly-decorated veterans of the Vietnam era.
Phelps received the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second-highest military honor behind the Medal of Honor. He also received a Silver Cross, the third-highest military decoration, and then an Oak Leaf Cluster, the equivalent of a second Silver Cross.
In addition to those honors, Phelps was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with Valor V, Air Medal with Valor VI, Purple Heart VI, Vietnam Medal of Honor, Vietnam Cross for Gallantry IV and a Presidential Unit Citation.
A search of public military databases and other public sources managed by military support organizations reveals information about only one of those awards. For a Silver Star issued in 1976 for actions ten years earlier, Phelps' citation reads: "“for gallantry in action while engaged in military operations in the Republic of Vietnam, while serving as a member of the Special Forces (Tiger Force) Platoon, on 4 November 1966. His actions, without regard for his own safety, reflect great credit on himself and the Armed Forces of the United States.”
Research into many other Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star citations reveal information of a more specific nature about the awards. Given Phelps' Special Forces assignment and the vague nature of his citation, it's highly likely that Lt. Col. Phelps’ commendations and citations may have occurred in classified operations, and records of those actions remain classified today.
For comparison, you can read about the medals of the following highly-decorated Georgia military personnel in Vietnam, which included detailed descriptions:
- General James Everett Livingston, Medal of Honor, Navy Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Defense Superior Service Medal.
- Major Stephen Pless, Medal of Honor, Silver Star, 3 Distinguished Flying Crosses
- Lt. Colonel Rowland Worrell, Air Force Cross, Silver Star, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, 3 Distinguished Flying Crosses
- Major General James McInerney, Air Force Cross, Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, 3 Silver Stars, 7 Distinguished Flying Crosses
- Major Charles Kelly, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, 3 Distinguished Flying Crosses
- First Lieutenant Ralph Puckett, 2 Distinguished Service Stars, Silver Star, 3 Distinguished Service Crosses.
- Captain James Dabney, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star
Phelps, a Marietta resident at the time of his death in 1986, is buried in Marietta National Cemetery. His headstone, located in Section A Site 739-A, lists his decorations.
More On Marietta National Cemetery
For more information about this historic national cemetery and some of the veterans resting there, check out these resources:
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From my home in Cobb County, I write about local history, outdoors and other topics. For more history posts, follow this link to my blog site.