BATAVIA, Ill. —In the library of Rotolo Middle School Sunday, Medal of Honor recipient Allen Lynch teaches a lesson you won’t find in the stacks of books around him. Speaking with a student who says they're being bullied at school for "stupid reasons," Lynch said he's been there too.
“The bullying that I endured when I was in grade school and junior high made me stronger,” Lynch told the student.
Lynch took that sense of strength he took from the streets of Chicago to the battlefields of South Vietnam. Then on December 15, 1967, he was serving as a radio telephone operator in the Army’s 12th Cavalry, one of the most decorated combat divisions of the war. After surviving 30 straight days of fighting the steam and stench of the jungle, Lynch and his platoon were taken by surprise.
“We were taking a lot of fire. A lot of things were happening,” Lynch recalls.
As they scrambled for cover, one of Lynch’s men was shot and fell behind, falling in an exposed and open stretch of terrain. Without hesitating, Lynch went to rescue him.
“So I thought we’d get back, it’d be easy-peasy. Not so much. Before I could tell myself, ‘that’s dumb,’ I went out and got him,” Lynch said.
After heading out to save one, Lynch ended up rescuing three wounded soldiers, even staying behind to protect them when the rest of the company withdrew, single-handedly defending the wounded men for four hours.
His act of bravery was later recognized by President Richard Nixon, who awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honor. Lynch said the whole experience felt surreal.
“Standing in the White House was just weird,” Lynch said. “I’m just a middle class white kid working in a factory.”
As the years have passed and he’s learned more about the politics behind the war that claimed more than 58,000 American lives, he reflects with a sense of spite.
“To read how our president – who we elected with a pretty good vote – lied to us, made me very cynical of politicians,” Lynch said.
Speaking to the group of middle schoolers on Veteran’s Day, he was focused on Election Day, which he says exercises the most important right he fought to protect.
"This week, we did something that few people in the world get to do," Lynch said. “It is a sacred right to cast our vote. That’s why we have all served, so that the will of the American people can be heard in Washington.”
Talking politics brings Lynch full circle, to his experience being bullied as a kid. He even has a book coming out soon that focuses more on his experience being bullied than his time in Vietnam. He says the main lesson is this: your past doesn't dictate your potential.
"It’s hard going through hard times, but if you let it, it’ll make you a stronger person,” Lynch said.