LEXINGTON, Va. — This week, President Biden awarded Jake Hamlon, a Rockbridge County High School student and member of Boy Scout Troop 521, with the Medal of Honor for shooting down three Chinese spy balloons over Goshen Pass.
Hamlon, 15, spotted the first balloon at around 10:45 Sunday morning while hiking the Goshen Pass Trailhead along with four other scouts.
“I’m a big news junkie as well as a patriot, so I immediately knew what I was seeing and what I had to do,” Hamlon told reporters at a D.C. press conference on Monday. “I had to act quickly, especially considering the 9 mile per hour southeast wind. Those balloons would have been over Buena Vista in no time. ”
Hamlon, who was prepared that day, immediately chambered a .22 caliber shell into his Remington Model 34 and assumed a prone firing position. Fellow scout and classmate Bill Thomlinson, 14, acted as a spotter, scribbling calculations on a notepad to account for relative distance, atmospheric conditions, and speed of the target. Hamlon adjusted the steel dials on the rifle’s telescopic lens to match the correct elevation and windage as Thomlinson read off his calculations.
Hamlon, firmly resting the barrel on a stone outcropping, drew a breath of air, which he held for two seconds, and slowly squeezed the trigger.
“That sonovabitch popped like a two-month-old zit and fell to the ground in a streaming tatters. We all stood there stunned silent until someone shouted, ‘Take that, Chairman Xi!’ Then we all leapt in the air, hollering and high fiving,” Thomlinson said.
But the celebration was cut short. Moments later, Hamlon spotted two more balloons drifting up the center of the pass. Reports of what followed vary. According to another scout at the scene, 12-year-old Ben Chambers, Thomlinson attempted to rip the rifle from Hamlon’s grasp, screaming, “You already got one! Let me shoot these!” Thomlinson denies this claim. While fellow scouts reportedly restrained Thomlinson, Hamlon lined his reticle up with the second balloon and removed it from U.S. airspace. Not hesitating, Hamlon bolted another round into the chamber and squeezed the trigger a third and final time, putting a permanent end to Chinese espionage in Rockbridge County.
“We are all mighty proud of our boys, Jake in particular. They did exactly what the Boy Scouts of America trained them to do,” said John “Jeb” Hartford, owner of Hartford Heating & Air as well as scoutmaster for Troop 521.
A public relations official for the Boy Scouts of America said that shooting down a foreign military’s spycraft was “definitely not” what the young men of Troop 521 were trained to do.
“I mean, obviously a quarter of a mile is a hell of a shot, especially on a moving target like that, but as Jake’s track coach, I just worry about all this hoopla going to his head. Apparently he’s been asking the lunch ladies to thank him for his service. Practice next week is gonna kick his ass, hero kid or not,” said Patrick Wingo, head coach of Rockbridge High School’s track & field team.
Hamlon is the first civilian to receive the Medal of Honor since the American Civil War. For his service, he will also receive the marksmanship merit badge.