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CENTCOM senior leadership presents Bronze Star Medal to Vietnam vet

By Sgt. Fredrick Coleman , CENTCOM Public Affairs

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March 6, 2013 — MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — After a 46-year wait, Army Sgt. Robert French was presented a Bronze Star Medal for his actions in the Vietnam War by his wife Kaye during a ceremony conducted by Army Maj. Gen. Karl R. Horst, U.S. Central Command chief of staff, during a ceremony at the USCENTCOM Welcome Center March 5.

“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. “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.”

Drafted into the Army, French served as a radioman with Company C, 9th Infantry Division with the Mobile Riverine Forces, which was based on Navy ships in the South Vietnam Mekong Delta in 1967. On June 19, French and approximately 300 soldiers walked into an ambush at Ap Bac near the Mekong Delta. During the three-day battle 47 American were killed,  and French was shot in his back near his spine.  Three of the four helicopters sent in to rescue French and other wounded soldiers were shot down.

After one of the helicopters went down, French was rescued by a chaplain who pulled him out of the water. “I would have drowned if not for him,” said the Carrollwood, Fla. resident in a Tampa Tribune article.

French and retired Army Maj. Jack Benedick, who served as French’s platoon commander at the time, attended a reunion in 2000. During the event, Benedick learned that neither French nor the other four service members nominated for the award ever received the medal. In 2011, Benedick started the process again. Two year later, with help from U.S. Representative Gus Billirakis, from Florida’s 12th Congressional District, and Army Command Sgt. Maj. Anthony Marrero, senior enlisted leader to the USCENTCOM Headquarters Commandant, French, now 67, received his award in front of his friends and family, including his 12-year-old granddaughter Amber.

“I’m really happy for my grandfather for getting this award.  I’m proud that he did it [served in Vietnam] because he wanted to, not because he had to.” said Amber.

Horst said in his opening remarks the underlying theme of the ceremony is it’s never too late to do the right thing, and today, 46 years later, the military did the right thing by presenting a Bronze Star to Sgt. French.

“This was an award that he earned 46 years ago, and it has taken us 46 years to get it right,” said 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.”

As of today, three of the five troops nominated for Bronze Stars for their actions in 1967 have received their awards.  The remaining two are awaiting approval.