By LTC Michael DeBolt, DAI Omaha Public Schools
James William Fous (October 14, 1946 – May 14, 1968) was a United States Army Soldier and a recipient of the United States military’s highest decoration—the Medal of Honor—for his actions in the Vietnam War.
Cadets from Central JROTC worked for a year to have the street next to the high school renamed in his honor as their community service project. They worked with members of City Council, the street department and neighboring Creighton University and Joslyn Art Museum to petition to have 800 feet of Davenport Street renamed.
Sherry Williams of Pocahontas, Iowa, unveiled the James Fous Avenue sign during a ceremony in Omaha on Friday, Veterans Day. She is the sister of James and attended Central with him a few years behind. Unveiling the sign with her was her husband Dean (also a Vietnam veteran), daughter Christine of Wisconsin and son Benjamin of Washington D.C..
She arrived an hour early on the 11th and took a tour of her ala mater with the current Cadet Battalion Commander, Cadet Major Vel Par and Army Instructor SFC Andrew Amberg.
During the school tour, she reminisced of how they were not allowed to cut across the courtyard of the school (now the atrium) and how she and her brother would walk to school in all kinds of Nebraska weather.
She remarked “I wished James hadn’t been so brave that day in Vietnam and would of came home.” She shared photos of James at Basic Training at Fort Lewis, the last photo taken in Hawaii prior to going to Vietnam three months before he died, and a photo of her mother and grandmother meeting, Glenn Cunningham and Roman Hruska Representatives of Nebraska and President Nixon. She also bought with her the Medal of Honor for the cadets to see.
Fous was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on October 14, 1946, and graduated from Central High School in 1964. He subsequently attended the University of Nebraska at Omaha and joined the Army from his hometown in 1967.
By May 14, 1968, was serving as a private first class in Company E, 4th Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division. On that day, in Kiến Hòa Province, Republic of Vietnam, Fous smothered the blast of an enemy-thrown hand grenade with his body, sacrificing his life to protect the soldiers around him after yelling grenade to warn those around him.
Fous, aged 21 at his death, was buried in Fort McPherson National Cemetery, Maxwell, Nebraska.
Private Fous’ official Medal of Honor citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Pfc. Fous distinguished himself at the risk of his life while serving as a rifleman with Company E. Pfc. Fous was participating in a reconnaissance-in-force mission when his unit formed its perimeter defense for the night. Pfc. Fous, together with 3 other American soldiers, occupied a position in a thickly vegetated area facing a woodline. Pfc. Fous detected 3 Viet Cong maneuvering toward his position and, after alerting the other men, directed accurate fire upon the enemy soldiers, silencing 2 of them. The third Viet Cong soldier managed to escape in the thick vegetation after throwing a hand grenade into Pfc. Fous’ position. Without hesitation, Pfc. Fous shouted a warning to his comrades and leaped upon the lethal explosive, absorbing the blast with his body to save the lives of the 3 men in the area at the sacrifice of his life. Pfc. Fous’ extraordinary heroism at the cost of his life were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.
The street sign will be a lasting tribute to a Vietnam hero and Central alum but will be a memory of a lifetime to the family and cadets who be forever bonded by a simple act of remembrance on Veterans Day.