Skip to content

Dover medic killed in Vietnam War gets Bronze Star. Family calls honor 'overwhelming.'

DOVER — A Navy combat medic from Dover killed in the Vietnam War was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star Medal Friday after making the ultimate sacrifice more than 50 years ago.

Family members of late Hospital Corpsman Third Class George Riordan were joined by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Commander Capt. Michael Oberdorf as they accepted the recognition from the Navy during a ceremony at City Hall.

On March 14, 1968, during the Tet Offensive in South Vietnam, Riordan was rendering first aid to an injured Marine named Don Ritter when he was mortally wounded by enemy fire. After being struck, Riordan, who was 19 years old, shielded and saved Ritter from the continued barrage but died, according to officials. 

“To see the respect that comes from the fellow Marines, fellow Navy, for an event that happened over 50 years ago is overwhelming,” said the late medic’s brother, Martin Riordan. 

A crowd of veterans, active service members, Riordan family and loved ones and onlookers packed into City Hall for the ceremony. Shaheen said the Bronze Star is the result of an ongoing effort between her office and Riordan’s family since October 2018. 

Calling the slain medic “Doc,” the senator noted her favorite aspect of life in politics is awarding medals and recognizing the actions of service members. 

“This day has been a long time coming,” she said. “Too long.”

On hand to honor the fallen medic was Ray Dito, a Marine and retired fire captain from California who was the commanding officer of Riordan’s unit at the time of the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. 

In the early 1970s, Dito began investigating whether Riordan could receive posthumous recognition. He said the Marine Corps notified him it would not be possible because the recognition was being sought more than three years after Riordan’s death. 

However, according to Dito, the rules were altered a few years ago when the military began allowing late service members to be honored if a sitting member of U.S. Congress seeks recognition on their behalf.

That adjustment paved the way for “Doc” to be honored by the military. After first reaching out to the office of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, the Riordan family was connected with Shaheen’s office for an effort that would take more than three-and-a-half years.

Shaheen recited a previous recollection from Ritter, who was unable to attend the medal ceremony, recapping Riordan’s actions 54 years ago. 

“‘Doc’... protected him with his body in both life and death,” Shaheen said. 

After the Bronze Star was awarded, Martin Riordan was presented a shadowbox with his brother’s image, a folded American flag and military medallions by Navy Command Master Chief Bruce Lee. 

Prior to Friday’s ceremony, Riordan had been awarded a Purple Heart, a National Defense Service Medal, a Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon, a Combat Action Ribbon and a Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, among other honors. 

Laid out on a table was a framed front page from the 2000 Memorial Day weekend issue of Foster’s Sunday Citizen newspaper, which featured a grainy image of Riordan as tribute for his service. Beneath it was a letter sent by former President Lyndon B. Johnson to Riordan’s parents following their son’s death, expressing his condolences. 

“I want you to know that as I share your sorrow, I join you in what I hope is your feeling of deep pride,” Johnson’s note reads. “Your son’s sacrifice has helped to make this world a brighter and safer place.”

On the right of Riordan’s image in the newspaper was a quote from a letter he sent to his parents' home on Whittier Street, some two months before he was killed in action. 

“I don’t carry an M-16 for looks. I carry it to get in on the action and help out,” Riordan wrote. “I could sit back and hide, but it isn’t right. I’m only one man in a big war, and my job is to aid the wounded.”

According to the newspaper, Riordan was Dover’s first casualty of the Vietnam War.