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50 years after his service in Vietnam, veteran finally gets Purple Heart

Purple Heart (Lance Cpl. Jeffrey A. Cosola/WikiCommons)

Ronald Botch didn’t want to talk about the war when he returned five decades ago from Vietnam, where he suffered a broken pelvis and nerve damage to his leg.

With the conflict dragging on and no end in sight in 1968, the war had become deeply unpopular and inspired protests across the country. Many soldiers, like Botch, didn’t feel welcome when they returned home.

“They were protesting and calling us baby killers and stuff like that,” the Salisbury Township resident said Monday.

And so, he didn’t care to retrieve the military medals he was awarded for his service in the Marines, where earned the rank of corporal.

“You just didn’t talk about it,” he said.

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Last year, his wife Catherine told him he should try to get those medals so his two sons could see what he did for his country. Attitudes toward Vietnam veterans have changed, she figured.

“I told him he’s a hero,” she said.

So, Botch contacted U.S. Rep. Susan Wild’s office, one of the first times a constituent had reached out to the first-term Lehigh Valley congresswoman for help retrieving military medals. On Monday, Wild held a ceremony to give Botch his Purple Heart and several other medals. Ronald, 71, and Catherine, 69, attended with their sons, James, 36 and John, 33.

Wild shared Botch’s story: He enlisted in the Marine Corps when he was 19. In 1968, he was deployed to Vietnam. That same year, he was wounded when the truck he was in hit a land mine, for which he received the Purple Heart. The medal, the oldest military award still given to service members, is awarded to those wounded while serving in the armed services.

He was discharged in 1970.

The Purple Heart is one of five awards Botch received Monday. The others are the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Combat Action Ribbon, the National Defense Service Medal, and the Vietnam Service Medal.

” I am very proud of you,” Wild told Botch during the event. “I’m sure your family is as well.”

Catherine hopes that more veterans will step forward and claim their service medals.

“They need to acknowledge to themselves that what they did was something special, especially ones that hide it so much,” she said. “And they need to know and recognize that that was a gift that I gave to the country.”

Botch had his two sons in mind Monday.

“The most important thing is they know what I went through and they think I deserved it,” he said.

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