During the Vietnam War, thousands of soldiers returning home received their combat awards in the mail. That practice has been discontinued and was corrected for 10 soldiers last week.
A cannon salute honored the 10 soldiers who served with the 196th Light Infantry Brigade in Vietnam. The soldiers deployed for one year of combat duty as individual replacements, their awards and decorations mailed to them after they returned home. Allen Hoe, from Hawai’i, was a combat medic with Bravo Company’s Reconnaissance Platoon during the 1968 Tet Offensive, one of the bloodiest campaigns of the Vietnam War.
“For me, it’s just so personally gratifying to have the combat brigade that I served with in war, stationed here in Hawai’i, recognizing its soldiers.”
Hoe received the Bronze Star, Vietnam Service Medal and Combat Medic Badge. Orlando Vazqez Agosto, from Puerto Rico, was a Sergeant in the Recon Platoon along with Hoe. Agosto was awarded the Silver Star, the 3rd highest award for valor.
“That was May 12th, ’68. Mother’s Day. When we got hit, I took the M-60 machine gun and we went on top of the bunker and we surprised barrage of fire to the enemy. And, after that, I get hit with a grenade or maybe mortar. I don’t know.”
Vasqez Agosto recuperated at a field hospital and was later sent back to the 196th. Sherry Jones traveled from Texas to attend the ceremony in honor of her brother, Sergeant Danny Widner. He was also with the Recon Platoon during Tet.
“On May 12, 1968, Mother’s Day, he went missing in action and he’s been missing in action ever since. We haven’t had any military services but we do have a plaque for him next to mom and dad at the cemetery at Graham, Texas.”
James Boersma was drafted following graduation from Michigan State University with a degree in journalism. He was with B-Company one year after the 1968 Tet Offensive.
“I was the RTO the radio man. I was a private first class. The weather was very, very hot and rainy. I was in the jungle probably, like, ninety percent of the time and it just wasn’t fun being a combat infantryman in the jungle for months after months.”
Boersma received the Army Commendation Medal and Combat Infantryman Badge. Larry Johnson was a Sergeant with F-Troop 17th Cavalry of the 196th. He received the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Combat Infantryman Badge.
“I do remember when I was wounded, that we went over as individuals and we came back as brothers. There were some good times and bad times and also some sad times. But, war is hell. That’s the only way you can put that.”
Combat Medic Hoe now serves as the Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army for Hawai’i. He says the Army leaves no one behind.
“We always try to do the right thing and there’s no wrong time to do the right thing. Hopefully, this event may inspire other veterans who are, maybe, stationed or near their combat brigades to do the same thing.”
For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.