A soldier who led one of the most storied military efforts in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks is this year’s recipient of the Philip Pistilli Silver Veteran's Medal.
Maj. Mark Nutsch (retired) led 12 Green Berets into Afghanistan in October 2001, where they called in air strikes and – on horseback and alongside soldiers of the Northern Alliance – took a key city, denying it to the Taliban. The story was told in the book “Horse Soldiers,” by Doug Stanton, and a character closely based on Nutsch was played by Chris Hemsworth in the 2018 movie “12 Strong.”
The award is presented at the annual Truman Good Neighbor Award luncheon in Kansas City, an event that would normally fall this week since Truman’s birthday is Friday. Pistilli, an infantry combat veteran of World War II, for years was president of the Good Neighbor Award Foundation.
There is no luncheon this year because of the COVID-19 situation. The winner of the Good Neighbor Award is Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired from the U.S. Supreme Court two years ago.
Nutsch grew up in Washington, Kansas, and he went to Kansas State University.
“Someone has to be first,” K-State wrote in a profile of Nutsch. “Some soldier has to be the first one to lead his unit into battle on behalf of his nation. In the aftermath of 9-11, it was Captain Mark Nutsch from rural Kansas who led his team on that initial mission.”
Nutsch was awarded the Bronze Star with valor for his efforts.
Recent winners of the Pistilli award include:
• Sgt. Terry L. Buckler in 2019. Buckler, a Missouri native, volunteered for special forces training and took part in a 1970 raid to free prisoners of war at the Son Tay prison camp in North Vietnam. He showed “conscious disregard for his personal safety, extraordinary heroism against an armed hostile force, and extreme devotion to duty,” according to his Silver Star citation.
• Brothers William H. Dunn and John Ernest “Ernie” Dunn of J.E. Dunn Construction in 2018. Ernie Dunn was a Marine Corps aviator who flew 118 combat missions in the Pacific theater in World War II. Bill Dunn flew surveillance flights over the Gulf of Mexico for the Navy and was stationed in California when Truman decided to drop the atomic bombs, ending the war.
• Henry W. Bloch in 2017. Bloch, a Kansas City native, was a B-17 navigator in World War II. On his first mission – to Berlin – the bomber lost three of its four engines. He flew 32 combat missions overall. After the war, he and his brother Richard founded H&R Block.
• Marine Col. Joseph F. Egan (retired) in 2016. Egan was an artillery officer in Vietnam and at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. He went from active duty to the Marine Corps Reserve and was reactivated in 1991 during the Gulf War. He was instrumental in starting the St. Michael’s Veterans Center at 39th Street and Cleaver Boulevard in Kansas City, providing housing for veterans.