Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Chapman spent his last day on earth 11,000 feet up a snowy mountain called Takur Ghar in Afghanistan, during one of the deadliest early skirmishes in the war.
On March 4, 2002, John and a team of SEALs were attempting to rescue Petty Officer First Class Neil “FiFi” Christopher Roberts, who had fallen from the first helicopter attempting to land on the mountain top as it came under heavy enemy fire.
As the team returned to Petty Officer Roberts’ last-known position, the helicopter was engaged with heavy fire from entrenched enemy forces.
Miraculously, the helicopter was able to successfully offload the remaining special operations team members and return to base.
This harrowing drone footage shows what John Chapman did next in real time.
John is the second person to exit the chopper and immediately moves in the direction of the summit where there’s a large rock and tree providing cover.
The team takes heavy fire from every direction, but John continues to force his way up the slope to engage the enemy in knee and thigh-deep snow.
John is heads towards a fortified bunker where two enemy combatants armed with AK-47s are firing.
He makes the decision to charge alone into the bunker, despite the constant enemy fire at nearly point-blank range. John engages the two enemy combatants and kills them, saving the lives of his team.
After taking control of the first enemy bunker, John and his team leader turn their attention to a second bunker, housing several enemy combatants armed with a heavy machine gun, hand grenades and rocket propelled grenades. John is shot twice in the torso, and collapses, unconscious.
Meanwhile, the team leader and SEALs come under heavy fire as they try to take control of the second bunker, and one man is injured. The SEALs make the decision to retreat.
They don’t know John is inside the bunker. And they don’t know he’s still alive.
At about 5 in the morning, John recovers enough to once again engage the enemy. By now, he’s experiencing severe blood loss and shock. Nonetheless, he stages a one-man stand against 2 dozen enemy combatants still in Bunker 2.
He initiates a number of radio calls which are heard by a fellow combat controller and Army Rangers. But John never responds to their replies.
He fights on alone for another 40 or 50 minutes, sustaining more gunshot and shrapnel wounds. But still he fights on, even as enemy combatants charge him in hand-to-hand combat.
Just as the sun comes up, John hears the sounds of incoming helicopters. It was the quick reaction force, or QRF and they were coming back to rescue him.
But John knew something those in the air didn’t – they were flying into a deadly trap, and he was going to do everything in his power to protect them.
John makes a desperate final stand to save the lives of the 18 men coming in the helicopter. He engages the enemy in multiple directions, and quickly burns through the last of his ammunition.
The combatants desperately try to dislodge Chapman so they can set up RPGs and take out the helicopter.
With the choice of saving his own life, or the lives of his unknown comrades, John makes the decision to climb out of the safety of the bunker and make the ultimate sacrifice.
The helicopter is struck by an RPG, and makes a remarkable controlled crash. John continues to provide cover as his comrades exit the helicopter.
Sixteen bullet and shrapnel wounds do not stop John from fighting. It’s only when he’s finally shot directly in the heart that he stops.
On August 22, 2018, Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Chapman was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his incredible courage and selfless sacrifice during the Battle of Takur Gar in Afghanistan in March of 2002.
During a ceremony the following day to mark his induction into the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon, Air Force leaders talked of his courage and also his humility.
Retired Chief Master Sgt. Bruce Dixon, one of John’s teammates at the 24th Special Tactics Squadron, said John was so careful never to brag about himself that he often surprised those around him.
As described by Air Force Times, “Bruce and John were on the same team at Fort Bragg during a training event known as a Monster Mash – one of those “up at 0300 to find the objectives and make it to the rally point” events that left them cold and wet and exhausted.”
“One of the last events of the Monster Mash was at the pool. Each member had to climb up the 10-meter platform to the high dive, jump into the water and get out. Each member took their turn … and then there was John. He climbed to the platform and walked out to the edge. But when he got there, he turned around – his back to the pool – and balanced on his tiptoes with his arms extended.”
“With everyone watching, he bounced once, twice and then a third time, executing a flawless two-and-a-half gainer, rotating toward the platform, somersaulting two and a half times and cleanly splitting the water.”
“Until that moment, no one, not even those closest to him on his team, knew that John was once a competitive diver and an Olympic hopeful whose Connecticut state diving records still stand today. He’d never told them, because he wasn’t one to brag.”
We’ll do the bragging for John Chapman. A most incredible warrior and inspiring human being.
Our newest design was created to highlight the heroism of those who gave their lives, and we will be donating a portion of the proceeds to support the continuation of memorial events honoring these men who selflessly risked their lives for a brother in arms.
Help us share their stories, honor their legacy, and keep their memories alive with this special tribute!!