RUPPERT L. SARGENT
MEMORIAL BUILDING DEDICATED
The Ruppert Leon Sargent Memorial City Administration Building in Hamton, Virginia was officially dedicated on October 5, 2002. The building honors Hampton native Ruppert Leon Sargent - the first African-American officer to be awarded the nation's highest award for valor in combat - the Medal of Honor.
The effort to name a civic structure in his honor began 35 years ago.
It was 1967 when Andrew Greenwell, then serving as Director of the City of Hampton's Department of Commerce, received a letter from Vietnam addressed to "To Whom It May Concern." That letter had come from Ruppert Sargent's company commander, Captain Watty N. Smith on behalf of the men of B Company, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment (Manchu), 25th Infantry Division. The letter contained three money orders - two for $100 and one for $30 - and it asked two favors: That the recipient purchase a wreath and place it on the grave of the late Ruppert Leon Sargent when his remains were returned for burial in the Hampton National Cemetery; and that the balance of the funds be given to his widow.
Sargent had been killed in action on March 15, 1967 while on patrol in Hau Nghia province southeast of Cu Chi, Vietnam. His comrades wanted to honor him, noting that he had died gallantly to save several of his fellow soldiers.
An Army veteran himself, Greenwell felt a strong sense of obligation when he received those requests and he moved quickly to honor them. As time passed he would often tell friends and acquaintances about this local hero who had given his life for his country. His feelings intensified when, in 1969, Ruppert Sargent was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic deed.
But that was only the beginning of his quest. As the years passed, he had ongoing discussions with city officials about the need to recognize Hampton's only Medal of Honor recipient. He spoke about honor, duty, gallantry and what those things mean for our society and our country.
With the planning of the city's new downtown administration building, the opportunity had at last presented itself. Greenwell recommended to the Hampton City Council that the building be named in honor of Ruppert Sargent. The council voted unanimously to accept the recommendation.
Ground was broken to begin construction on April 30, 2001. The 117,000-square foot, seven story building houses the Hampton City School Administration, City Treasurer, Commissioner of Revenue, the departments of Economic Development, Retail Development, Planning, Assessor and the Hampton Veterans Conference Room which is open for public use.
The keynote speaker for the dedication was Joseph L. Galloway, journalist and co-author of the national bestseller "We Were Soldiers Once...and Young." Galloway spent 22 years as a foreign and war correspondent including four tours covering the Vietnam War. On May 1, 1998 Galloway was decorated with the Bronze Star Medal with V for rescuing wounded soldiers under fire in the Ia Drang Valley in November, 1965. His is the only medal of valor the U.S. Army awarded to a civilian for actions during the Vietnam War.
Lieutenant Sargent's company commander Watty Smith, the man who made the original Medal of Honor recommendation also spoke at the ceremony. He spoke of the letter he had written to the people of Hampton, Virginia so many years ago and repeated what he had written about his young platoon leader and how his death had affected him. "First, he had the ability to treat each soldier's problem, regardless of how small, as though it was the most important problem in the world. Second, he had the abillity to lead. Third, and most important, he loved his family and his God. On this day, I lost my best friend."
Also on hand for the ceremony were Manchus who served with Ruppert Sargent: Larry Ruut, Don Creten, C.W. Bowman, Robert Kron and Gary Heater.