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Marines rally to replace stolen medals of Vietnam veteran

Medals of Valor (U.S. Air Force/Released)

Frank Corona was working as a detective when he investigated a home robbery in which a Vietnam veteran’s medals were stolen, along with other valuable personal items such as jewelry and guns.

But his 25-year service as a Marine kicked in when he and his supervisor, another former Marine, decided to replace the missing medals and present them to their fellow veteran.

“That’s what Marines do,” Corona said.

Thomas Faleskie, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who flew helicopters in the jungles of Vietnam, said the same—after he got over the surprise of the unexpected ceremony.

Faleskie and his wife, Lisa, arrived at the Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Office on Friday afternoon. She knew about the presentation, but he didn’t. Corona lured him there under the ruse that he had found some keys that might have been taken during the January 2019 robbery.

When the couple pulled up to the front of the building in an Army-green Toyota truck, Tom Faleskie, 83, thought they’d gotten their signals crossed and had crashed another event in progress.

Little did he know the crowd of about 30 onlookers—including five people who pointed television and newspaper cameras at him—were there to document his reaction.

“Absolutely floored, I’m still in a state of shock,” he said later. “I never would have expected this, I still can’t believe it’s happened.”

Then, a reporter wondered how he felt about a fellow Marine coming to his aid the way Corona and his supervisor, 1st Sgt. Greg Hamilton, did. Faleskie echoed Corona’s earlier statement.

“That’s what you’d expect from a Marine,” he said.

Faleskie had on a blue face mask so it was difficult to gauge his reaction when Corona presented him a shadow box filled with replacement medals. Corona and Hamilton paid for the items themselves.

Corona read the citation from Faleskie’s second Distinguished Flying Cross medal, which described a particularly hairy incident in October 1968. Faleskie was one of 16 helicopters pilots assigned to move an entire battalion in the midst of hostile forces in the Quang Nam Province.

Snipers fired at him as he waited for Marines to safely get on board, then he headed to the drop-off zone where others waited to launch the assault. Twelve other choppers suffered so much damage during the campaign, they were grounded.

That’s when Faleskie “assumed command and skillfully directed and controlled subsequent flights into the dangerous pickup and assault landing zones,” according to the citation. “His superb leadership and resolute determination inspired all who observed him.”

Faleskie’s take on the dangerous mission?

“It was a rough morning, but we got it done,” he said, stressing how important it was for him to finish the mission so the battalion wasn’t separated—and even more exposed—to enemy fire.

Lisa Faleskie secretly gave Corona the citation. She said her husband is so humble, he never would have shared it. Likewise, he probably wouldn’t have wanted the big fuss made over him, if he’d known about the presentation ceremony beforehand.

But then, humility was something else those involved had in common.

When asked about the medals Corona had replaced for him, Tom Faleskie switched the focus to Corona, praising him for reaching “the pinnacle” of sergeant major, the highest rank for an enlisted man.

“He’s absolutely amazing,” Faleskie said.

When Hamilton was asked about his part in the event, he pointed to Corona and said, “He did it all.” When one of the Washington television reporters asked Corona to be interviewed on camera, he deferred to Hamilton.

And, when Corona welcomed the Faleskies to the event, he thanked the crowd that gathered and said “this is about nothing else but Tom and Lisa.” He emphasized the courage Faleskie showed in the face of danger, and the way he stayed in harm’s way until the men were safely loaded and unloaded.

“That is a great American,” Corona said. “I want to thank you for that.”

“You’re welcome,” was Faleskie’s muffled response through his mask.

“Ooh-rah” said other Marines in the crowd, including members of the Jack Maas detachment of the Marine Corps League.

“In the Marine Corps, you never leave anybody behind,” said Bob Singer, sergeant-at-arms with the local detachment. “There’s always a bond there.”


© 2020 The Free Lance-Star