President honors late airman
Sgt. Chapman had ties to Cove, Windber
WASHINGTON — An Air Force sergeant who gave his life while trying to rescue a Navy SEAL in Afghanistan was awarded the Medal of Honor on Wednesday by President Donald Trump, who lauded the airman’s “final act of supreme courage.”
Trump presented the nation’s highest military honor to the widow of Tech. Sgt. John A. Chapman, of Windsor Locks, Connecticut.
The East Room of the White House erupted in an uncharacteristic burst of piercing whistles and hoots after Valerie Nessel accepted the framed medal suspended from a light blue ribbon on behalf of her late husband, and she and her immediate family joined Trump on the dais.
Nessel was accompanied by the couple’s two daughters, Madison and Brianna, and her mother, Rita Lehman Novak, a native of Martinsburg, Pa.
Novak currently lives in Windber, where Chapman is buried and where Valerie grew up.
Chapman joined the Air Force in 1985, and Trump said he volunteered to go to Afghanistan soon after deadly terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, the worst ever on U.S. soil. The attacks were planned in Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan in March 2002, while carrying out a mission to establish an observation post atop Takur Ghar mountain, the Chinook helicopter carrying Chapman and his joint special operations teammates came under heavy machine-gun fire and was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade.
The assault flung Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts from the helicopter and onto the enemy-infested mountain. The remaining special operations team members crash-landed nearby, but boarded a second Chinook aircraft and set out on a mission to rescue Roberts.
“They wanted to get Neil,” Trump said.
But enemy forces immediately began firing upon the approaching helicopter, which managed to deliver the remaining special operations members and return to base. Chapman immediately charged up the snow-covered mountain toward enemy positions while returning fire.
“He really fought. We have proof of that fight,” Trump said.
Critically wounded while fighting to get to Roberts, Chapman continued to fight back until he made the ultimate sacrifice.
“In his final act of supreme courage, John gave his life for his fellow warriors,” the president said.