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Army holds long-overdue awards ceremony for Vietnam veterans in Hawaii

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Six months after he got home from the Vietnam War in August 1968, Allen Hoe got an envelope from the Army.“I opened it up, and all my medals had been mailed to me,” said Hoe, who took the unceremonious delivery of his Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal, Purple Heart, Combat Medical Badge and Vietnam Service Medal to his family home in Hawaii in stride.

“Back then the Vietnam War was at its height, and that was not a surprise,” said the former combat medic.

On Friday, Hoe and eight other veterans of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade took part a long-overdue award ceremony at Shafter’s Palm Circle parade grounds.

Col. Robert Berg, current commander of the Hawaii-based 196th, presented several medals, including a Silver Star and Bronze Star, to the group.

Berg also presented one set of medals posthumously to the sister of Danny Widner, who has been missing in action since May 1968.

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After the ceremony, white smoke filled the morning air from a six-cannon salute by a battery from the 25th Infantry Division.

June 29 marked the 46th anniversary of the 196th’s redeployment from Vietnam in 1972. It was the last Army combat brigade to leave the region as the U.S. ended its long military intervention in the Southeast Asian nation.

“You left your homes, your friends, your families to fight for your country,” Brig. Gen. Peter Andrysiak, chief of staff at U.S. Army Pacific, told the veterans during the ceremony. “No matter if you volunteered or were drafted, you served with dignity and honor during a challenging time in our nation’s history. You served your country when it wasn’t clear how much your country was supporting you, and when you returned home, there were no parades. Yet still you persisted and kept the faith.”

In addition to Hoe, the other veterans receiving medals included: Larry Johnson, Paul Ternullo, Orlando V. Agosto, Larry Proctor, David Eichhorn, James Ferguson, Thomas Keller, and James Boersema.

Troops returning from Vietnam often had little fanfare and, at times, were met with outright hostility as the public turned against the war.

Keller, who came home in 1972 after being injured falling into a ravine, said that the average soldier in the field didn’t realize they represented the last U.S. forces in Vietnam.

“As a soldier, you were living day-by-day,” he explained. “I was a platoon leader. You just did what you were told to do. You didn’t think about politics and whether we were coming or going. It was just, ‘Do your mission, every day.’”

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In 2005, Hoe’s 27-year-old son Nainoa was killed in Mosul, Iraq.

Nainoa’s brigade commander at the time, Robert Brown, presented the fallen soldier’s medals to the family.

“Somehow, I shared with him that I had received my medals in the mail,” Hoe said. Brown had expressed the hope that “some day we can fix this.”

Two years ago, Brown, now a four-star general, took over command of U.S. Army Pacific. He soon arranged a conversation with Hoe, who serves as an informal veterans liaison to the 196th. A few months later, USARPAC called Hoe to hear his story — and the wheels for the ceremony began turning.

“We’re coming together, 46 long years later after the brigade’s redeployment from Vietnam, to show our appreciation for these distinguished veterans,” Andrysiak said. “The value we place on these awards — symbolic of the actions associated with every Silver Star, Purple Heart and Army Commendation Medal — is why this will never be just a nine-to-five job.”

Hoe believes there are hundreds of Vietnam War-era 196th soldiers who got their medals in the mail the way he did. The Army was able to track down and officially invite about 40 to the ceremony.

For the veterans who stood on the field Friday, it was an overdue triumph.

“This is absolutely awesome,” Hoe said.

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© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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