Army Staff Sgt. Robert Pruden volunteered to join the Army as the Vietnam War raged because he’d told his family he wanted to make a difference there. Pruden never returned from war, but he did make all the difference to the men in his unit who were able to come home because of him. For that selfless sacrifice, he earned the Medal of Honor.
Pruden was born Sept. 9, 1949, in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was the second son to Lawrence and Marlys Pruden, who went on to have 11 more kids – four more boys and seven girls. As one of the elder children, Pruden helped out around the house, but he also had time to enjoy life, playing baseball, football and hockey.
Not long after Pruden graduated from Harding High School in 1967, he joined the Army. He went on to complete Ranger school and joined the Rangers of the 75th Infantry Regiment. His unit, Company G, was sent to Vietnam in early February 1969.
On Nov. 29, 1969, Pruden, a reconnaissance team leader, was on duty in the Quang Ngai Province of South Vietnam. His six-man team had been inserted by helicopter into Viet Cong-controlled territory. Their mission was to gain intelligence on enemy movements and set up an ambush position.
When they reached the area in which they were supposed to set up, Pruden divided his men into two groups on opposite sides of a well-used trail. As they began to set up their defensive positions, one of the team members who was out in the open suddenly got trapped by heavy enemy fire.
Pruden, who quickly realized their ambush position had been compromised, directed his team to fire back. As soon as they did, they were hit with heavy fire from a second enemy position.
Pruden quickly jumped out of hiding and fired back. He ran toward the enemy, hoping to draw their fire away from his men. Pruden was wounded twice, but he continued attacking until he fell for a third time in front of the enemy’s position.
The few moments the 20-year-old had left to live were spent directing his men into defensive positions and calling for evacuation helicopters, which safely withdrew his soldiers. Pruden died that day, but his actions took out several Viet Cong soldiers and led to the enemy’s withdrawal.
Pruden’s body was returned home and buried in Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis.
On April 22, 1971, President Richard M. Nixon presented the Medal of Honor to Pruden’s entire family during a White House ceremony. Two other fallen soldiers, Army Sgt. Rodney Evans and Army Spc. Michael Blanchfield, also received the high honor that day.
In 1992, Pruden was inducted into the Army Ranger Hall of Fame, the first year it was established. His unit, now known as the 75th Ranger Regiment, holds a tactical field skills competition every year called the Pruden Competition.
This article is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.