Forty years passed between an airman's last view of Vietnam and the pinning of a deserved Bronze Star.
Former Air Force Sgt. Lester Floyd, 63, received more than 12 military commendations Thursday in a ceremony officiated by U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor at the Veterans of Foreign War Post 2259.
Among the veteran’s awards were the Presidential Unit Citation, Air Force Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with one Silver Service Star and three Bronze Service Stars, Air Force Longevity Service Award, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal and the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces Honor Medals.
Floyd also received the Vietnamese Medal of Honor, one of just two U.S. recipients.
Jim Lee, vice commander of the post, took to the unit’s podium to welcome attendees and Pryor to a ceremony that would "take care of business that should have been taken care of long ago."
Floyd said in an interview after the pinning that the military branch had no record of his discharge, thus preventing the awarding of his due commendations.
Six weeks ago, he said, he contacted Pryor’s office seeking its assistance in securing the decorations that he was assured belonged to him.
"They did a tremendous job. They bent over backwards and were most gracious. The Air Force had the medals but wouldn’t give them to me. Two more are coming and Pryor’s office is still working on it," Floyd said.
Like many who receive deserved awards, the man deferred his accomplishments to others.
"Everything should go to the people who died. These medals belong to them," said Floyd.
Floyd described four tours spanning from his enlistment in 1967 to his discharge four years later as being heavy with conflict. In a 10-day attack on the airman’s unit that was occupying a Vietnamese city, Floyd earned the Bronze Star for taking over radio control and requesting air strikes in the absence of an operator.
Pryor read from the decoration’s document that Floyd was distinguished because of "outstanding analysis of hostile situations."
"They overrun us, just 20 Americans. We were overrun and my best friend was killed. I brought in air strikes. Over two battalions were over us," Floyd said. "Not many made it."
Floyd is a retired history teacher at 63 years and teaches golf to amputees, volunteering where and when his body allows. He admitted that he sustained injuries in the service but that "it wasn’t important."
"I’ve had a very good life."
Pryor said the recognition given to Floyd Thursday was an important corrective measure, especially due a service member who was a part of a "different time, different kind of conflict."
The senator, who often takes flights in and out of the nation’s capitol, recalled a recent trip where a plane of passengers erupted in applause of service members on board after their presence was announced by an attendant.
"This didn’t happen when men and women returned from Vietnam," Pryor said.
He added, "I think vets today still struggle with the way things were when they came back. I think we are doing better, I hope we are."
(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)