Florida (The Gaslamp Post) – Two Army veterans of the Viet Nam War have finally received recognition for their heroism over 40 years after the fact. However long overdue, these brave men although knowing what they had to live through and had done to save their fellow soldiers, never complained about it.
Floridian U.S. Army veterans Robert A. French of Carrollwood, and Ralph A. Morgan of Parrish, were both honored recently in separate ceremonies with Awards they had both earned, but never received. In both cases, the paperwork which reported their brave efforts never made it to command until some 40-odd years later.
U.S. Army Specialist Robert A. French
Army Specialist Robert A. French received his Bronze Star early last month for his exceptional service and loyalty during an ambush near the Mekong Delta, in 1967. French was drafted into service and served as a radioman with C Company of the 9th Infantry Division, 47th Infantry Regiment, with the Mobile Riverine Forces.
On June 19, 1967, French along with 300 fellow soldiers unknowingly walked into an ambush at Ap Bac near the Mekong Delta. A 3-day-long battle ensued during which 47 American soldiers were reportedly killed. French himself had been shot in the back near his spine during the ambush.
3 of the 4 Army helicopters who went in to extract the wounded were reportedly shot down during the fierce battle.
French was reportedly saved by a chaplain who had pulled him from the water. “I would have drowned if not for him,” said French. French reportedly received the Purple Heart for that battle, but the paperwork filed by his then platoon commander, now retired Army Maj. Jack Benedick, never made it to it’s destination.
During a reunion in 2000, Maj. Benedick discovered that none of the men he had nominated for the award had ever received it.
“Our reunion in 2000 they asked, ‘Did you all ever get your medals?’ We asked, ‘What medals?’ Nobody knew anything about it, so at that time he started putting in paperwork all over again and they finally decided, ‘Well, I guess we’ll give it to them,'” said French.
Family and friends filled the room overwhelmed with emotion as this hero finally received an honor well deserved.
“It means a lot more now because I’m with my family and friends; means a lot more than if they would’ve given it to me in Vietnam,” French said.
On March 5, 2013, 67-year-old Robert A. French, accompanied by his wife and in front of his friends and family, was presented with The Bronze Star for his actions that day in Ap Bac, Viet Nam. He was presented his Medal by U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Karl R. Horst, U.S. Central Command chief of staff at the USCENTCOM welcome center, located on MacDill Air Force Base.
“This was an award that he earned 46 years ago, and it has taken us 46 years to get it right,” said Maj. Gen. Horst. “Today is remembering the valor, the heroism, the warrior ethos of a young noncommissioned officer who lived to fight another day while many of his comrades did not.”
“The real heroes are still over there; the ones who didn’t make it back. I’m one of the lucky ones who made it back,” said French through the tears. “If I would have got it [the medal] in Vietnam, it wouldn’t have meant as much to me then as it does today. I’m very happy to have my family and friends here with me.”
French is among 4 others who have been nominated for the award for their actions that day. To date only 3 men have received their Medals.
U.S. Army Sgt. Ralph Morgan (Ret.)
Army Sergeant Ralph Morgan was honored with the military’s 3rd highest honor, The Silver Star earlier this week, for his bravery and selflessness during a siege where he faced 1,200 enemy North Vietnamese soldiers. On June 4, 1971, Morgan armed only with his M-16 rifle, held the enemy back while continuously exposing himself to enemy fire, thus allowing his platoon to retreat to safety.
Morgan was one of 8 U.S. Special Forces members who were stationed along with 25 Allied Vietnamese commandos at a secret radio relay station known as Hickory Hill, used to intercept enemy radio communications. When the North Vietnamese attacked, Morgan was able to draw the enemy’s fire away from his team which would allow them to get back inside of their perimeter.
He had been at the base for about a week before they were suddenly attacked with rockets, mortars, and small arms fire. Morgan ran into the fire and fought until his team had reached some safe point, and then reportedly called in an air strike. Not wanting the sensitive equipment to fall into enemy hands, he also destroyed it.
Sgt. Morgan stayed on the hill until he was ordered to evacuate by his senior, Sgt. Jon Cavaiani. Sgt. Caviaiani was wounded and thought to have been dead, but he managed to escape and evade the enemy for 11 days until captured by the North Vietnamese. He reportedly spent the next 661 days as a POW.
He also lost a friend that day during the siege. Morgan’s friend 22-year-old Sgt. John Jones was left behind when he was ordered onto the helicopter. Sgt. Jones was reportedly killed during the battle.
Having to live with that fact was what Morgan called “ghosts”, which have haunted him to this day. “There’s a code that you never leave a man behind,” Morgan said. “I could have refused that order and stayed there.”
While Cavaiani survived and returned to the United States and received the Medal of Honor in 1974, Jones’ remains were not discovered until 2011, in the same bunker where he had died some 40 years earlier. His remains were returned to the U.S. by the POW/Missing Personnel Office of the Pentagon, where he was finally buried in Arlington National Cemetery this past December.
As if having to have lived through something like that wasn’t horrific and soul emptying enough, the homecoming Morgan had to face was even harder. “I was one of those guys that was spit on,” said Morgan, “Port Authority building of New York, and I remember feeling ashamed.”
“It’s been difficult my whole life to talk about those events,” said Morgan. “I think talking about it now and going through this now is a way to clear my conscience and maybe get some ghosts out of the closet that have been haunting me for a long time.”
Sgt. Morgan was presented with his Silver Star at the USO Office at the Tampa International Airport, in front of his three adult children and two grandchildren. He was presented with his Award by U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, who made a point of being there specifically for this occasion.
“Here is someone who deserved the third-highest honor for gallantry and he was so humble, that forty-two years later, because the paper work never got processed, he’s finally getting the honor he deserved four decades ago,” said Senator Nelson.
“I wish I had the strength to mention their names, but there were so many good young men, and women, who lost their lives over there and didn’t receive an award,” said Morgan, “and if I could I would like to share this with their families because they deserve it too.”