Robert Hernandez has finally received his Purple Heart, more than four decades after he was injured in Vietnam.
HEWITT (April 4, 2013)--Forty-six years. It's just how long 65-year-old Whitney resident Robert Hernandez has waited to receive his Purple Heart medal after being injured during the Vietnam War.
Hernandez served as Corporal in the Marine Corps while fighting in Vietnam. In 1967, he and his outfit were ordered to babysit a bridge near the village of Tam Ky.
Hernandez says the job wasn't simple, and explains that he and his outfit could've been attacked by members of the Vietcong at any moment.
"What happened was the Vietcong had destroyed the bridge, the Seabees rebuilt it, and we were designated to protect it so it wouldn't be destroyed again," Hernandez said.
"What we didn't know was that the village of Tam Ky was being habited by Vietcong troops."
Things went south when the bridge was attacked by the Vietcong on July 13, 1967.
During the battle, an RPG exploded near Hernandez. The explosion left the left side of his body temporarily paralyzed during the firefight.
"I couldn't use my left arm or my left leg," Hernandez said.
"The RPG landed behind us and exploded. Shrapnel hit my helmet, swirled around it, and then came out."
After being hit, Hernandez was able to pull another injured marine to safety.
When the battle ended, they were both taken to the hospital. Hernandez would spend the next years recovering from his wounds.
In 1968, Hernandez came back to the states.
While applying for VA Benefits, Hernandez noticed that his DD 214 form revealed that he was awarded the Purple Heart Medal.
Yet, Hernandez never received a medal, and was never given a ceremony.
"To me, I was like a forgotten veteran," Hernandez said.
For the last 46 years, Hernandez never received his Purple Heart medal.
However, that all changed Tuesday night when the HOT Blue Star Mothers and Veteran Marine Colonel Mike O'Bric awarded Hernandez his Purple Heart during a surprise ceremony at the VFW Hewitt Post 6008.
For Hernandez, the medal is a sign of bravery, sacrifice, and courage that's nearly 50 years in the making.
"It feels so good to have this, and I'm honored that they did this for me," Hernandez said.
"A Purple Heart reminds me of the battle that I went through, and the brotherhood I share with all of my other veterans who served.
To me, this is important."