Courage under fire is something we would all hope to have, but you never actually know until you're tested. When 22-year-old Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Lester W. Weber was tested in Vietnam, he proved his courage — and then some — by taking out several enemy soldiers to keep his fellow Marines safe. Weber never got to come home, but his valor during the hardest of times earned him the Medal of Honor.
Weber was born July 30, 1948, in Aurora, Illinois, to George and Elsie Weber. He had two brothers, including George Jr., who also became a Marine.
Weber attended Hinsdale Central High School for two years before he dropped out to enlist in the Marine Corps Reserve in September 1966. By then, the war in Vietnam was escalating. So, about four months later, on Jan. 23, 1967, Weber enlisted in the regular Marine Corps.
He finished his training by June 1967 and deployed to Southeast Asia about a month later. Then a private first class, Weber was assigned as an ammunition carrier and squad leader with Headquarters and Service Company of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marines Division.
In November 1967, Weber was promoted to lance corporal. He had completed his normal tour of duty abroad, but he decided to extend it by six months, which is why he remained in Vietnam into 1969. That January, he assumed the role of squad leader with 2nd Platoon, Company M in the 3rd Battalion.
On Feb. 23, 1969, Weber was leading his Marines during a search and clear operation in the Bo Ban area of the Hieu Duc district in Quang Nam Province. They were sent to help a squad from another platoon, which was in the middle of a fierce firefight with a well-entrenched enemy battalion.
As Weber's platoon moved through a rice paddy, they were suddenly attacked by enemy soldiers hiding in the paddy's tall grass. Weber quickly dove into one patch of grass and took down an enemy soldier before forcing 11 others to break their contact with his fellow Marines. He then overwhelmed another North Vietnamese Army soldier in hand-to-hand combat.
Once that man was no longer a threat, Weber noticed two other enemy soldiers firing on some of the Marines from behind a dike. He ignored the intense gunfire and ran through it, diving into the area where those enemy soldiers were. He wrestled the weapons out of their hands and took them out, too.
At this point, Weber's heroics had caught the attention of many of the enemy fighters, so they began concentrating their fire on him. However, he continued to stay exposed, yelling encouragement to his fellow Marines. As he moved forward to again attack an enemy soldier, he was shot and killed.
Without Weber's motivation, courage and fighting spirit, his comrades may not have had the will to fight as hard as they did. For giving his life to the cause, Weber earned the Medal of Honor. His family received it from President Richard M. Nixon during a White House ceremony on Feb. 16, 1971. Three other Marines and a few soldiers who had also earned the high honor received their medals during the same ceremony.
Weber is buried in Clarendon Hills Cemetery in Darien, Illinois, not far from where he grew up. He continues to be remembered in that area today. In 2003, a memorial stone honoring him was set into the ground near the flagpole of the St. Isaac Jogues Grammar School, where he spent his formative years.
Weber Hall, a Marine barracks at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, also stands in his honor.
This article is part of a weekly series called "Medal of Honor Monday" in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military's highest medal for valor.