SOUTH HAVEN — Every dog has its day, and Medal of Honor recipient James McCloughan doesn’t have a problem with that, even if he gets cut out of the photo.
“Everyone on the team needs to be credited,” even the non-human ones, McCloughan, of South Haven, said after President Donald Trump retweeted a Medal of Honor presentation photo that replaced his image with that of Conan, the canine that helped track down an ISIS leader. The edited image shows the dog having the nation’s highest military honor draped around his neck.
“He did a pretty heroic thing,” McCloughan said of the military dog that was wounded as he pursued Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the terrorist leader who blew himself up in a tunnel in Syria with U.S. troops closing in.
McCloughan, an Army medic in Vietnam, did some pretty heroic things himself, saving the lives of 10 men. He received his Medal of Honor in 2017 for actions during the Battle of Nui Yon Hill in 1969, when he willingly entered the “kill zone” to rescue injured comrades despite his serious wounds from shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade.
The veteran said he worked with dogs that helped detect the enemy.
“They would keep us from getting into a lot of danger,” McCloughan said.
McCloughan has been the center of a media frenzy since the tweet surfaced.
The altered Associated Press photo of McCloughan originated at the conservative news site The Daily Wire, and shows Trump draping the medal around the canine’s neck from behind. It shows the blue ribbon of the Medal of Honor, although the pendant is a pawprint.
Trump tweeted Wednesday “AMERICAN HERO...Thank you Daily Wire. Very cute recreation, but the “live” version of Conan will be leaving the Middle East for the White House sometime next week!”
Many of the comments that accompanied the tweet opposed posting the image. Another said “Awesome; and give him a rib eye steak.”
McCloughan, a retired South Haven teacher and baseball coach, started getting media calls Wednesday evening while watching the World Series, and waited for a commercial break to return them. He first saw the photo when it was forwarded by the New York Times, which interviewed him. He has since spoken with CNN, Fox News and The Washington Post, as well as other national and local outlets.
He even was reached by a Russian television station through the Medal of Honor Society – which he said is a first for him and the organization.
McCloughan likened the photoshopped image to the scene in the movie “Forrest Gump,” which superimposed the face of Tom Hanks with the body of actual Medal of Honor winner Sammy Davis, from Indiana, receiving the medal from President Nixon.
He obviously understands the symbolism that the medal represents, and is not offended by the photo he said. “This does not degrade the Medal of Honor.”
“The Medal of Honor belongs to everybody on the team, and everybody in the company,” he said. He noted that the wounded in Vietnam had a 95 percent survival rate, which he attributes to the helicopter crews and the mechanics who kept them flying, as well as medics.
The medal shouldn’t be a subject of partisanship, he added. “The Medal of Honor is not political.”
He said that he sees the service that dogs provide to people all the time, from bomb-sniffing dogs at airports to dogs that help disabled people at home.
“This is a great opportunity to show how valuable they are,” McCloughan said.
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak