A proper medal presentation


May 30, 2004, 03:46 PM
I was honored to be there standing next to my dad when he was awarded his medals.

A proper medal presentation

After 36 years, he's still fighting his way out of the jungle.

"I really kind of live Vietnam every day," Jesse Salcedo said.

But at 57, the former Kelly AFB labor leader is finally getting full credit for his service, including the formal presentation Saturday of the two Purple Hearts he earned during the war.

The memories of Vietnam are never far away.

Salcedo was living in New Mexico when he saw the images of 9-11, which, to many veterans, seemed horrific yet oddly familiar.

"It was not like it was something new to us," he said. "It was like, here it comes again."

Salcedo retired in 2002 as a labor representative for government employees.

He was rated 30 percent disabled for his wounds, but he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and declared fully disabled several years ago.

At 21, Salcedo aged quickly during his year in Vietnam.

On Dec. 4, 1967, a mine blew him out of his truck near Dac To.

Despite a shrapnel wound to a leg and ringing in his ears that has never gone away, he returned to duty as a machine gunner.

On March 3, 1968, while protecting a Special Forces camp at Kon Tum, Salcedo saw danger in the eyes of the first group of soldiers on the trail.

"I knew they were going to die," he said. "I told them to be careful. I knew I'd be killed or wounded, but it was OK. I'd cheated death so many times."

Salcedo heard soldiers yell "machine gun up front" before bullets ripped through the foliage.

He would lose eight friends that day and be among 32 men wounded.

He recalls firing into the trees before being hit in the upper right arm.

"I was the only fighter up front," Salcedo said. "There was no one there to help me."

He then found an unmanned assault rifle — "like God left it out there for me" — and gave cover fire as medics and soldiers retrieved the wounded before he was finally taken himself.

While recovering in a field hospital in Vietnam, Salcedo found the Purple Heart someone had left by his bed.

When he returned to the United States, a sergeant handed him a Purple Heart for his earlier leg wound.

Having the two medals properly awarded, even if it is 36 years later, "means a lot," Salcedo said.

He received the medals from U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, at Saturday's regional convention of the Disabled American Veterans.

"There are a lot of people that got Purple Hearts, but that's all they got," Salcedo said. "Some got nothing. As you get older, you feel like you want to leave something kind of permanent. You want to make people understand what it's like to be a soldier."

Three of his wartime colleagues, who were reunited with Salcedo in recent years, also are seeking to get him awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

The Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for bravery, is a rare tribute.

"The medal carries a lot of power and responsibility," Salcedo said.

"I'm kind of resigned to the fact that my life has been spent fighting," he said.

Baldemar Garza, a Vietnam veteran and regional junior vice commander of the Disabled American Veterans, said Salcedo has support from other veterans and deserves the Medal of Honor.

"We veterans have always said we'd take a bullet for each other. That stands today as it did then," Garza said.

Salcedo said his unit, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, has had a presence in Iraq.

But he bristles at frequent comparisons between Vietnam, a war that cost 58,000 U.S. lives, and Iraq, where 685 Americans so far have been killed, according to the Defense Department's most recent official figures.

"You can't compare a desert to a jungle," Salcedo said. "The constraints they have now on firing back — I couldn't have handled that when I was in Vietnam."

Salcedo, who has a wife, son, stepdaughter and two grandsons in San Antonio, encourages veterans from Iraq to talk to one another about combat stress, a likely factor in recent suicides.

"They have a bond stronger than brotherhood, and they can be there for each other," he said.

article (http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/metro/stories/MYSA18.03B.Vietnam_Vet.3d30eb34.html)

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May 30, 2004, 05:28 PM
For what he did for his comrades-in-arms, that man deserves a lot--a whole lot--more than a couple of Purple Hearts.

A Medal of Honor doesn't seem a bit too much for what he did. But that's a really tough job to get it done. But even if it gets knocked down to a DSC or a Silver Star, it's sure worth a heartfelt salute from me.

May 30, 2004, 06:05 PM
it's sure worth a heartfelt salute from me

I'll second that.
Wish him well from us.

Bob F.
May 30, 2004, 10:52 PM
Third it... and thanks J.S., for everything!
Stay safe.

Jim March
May 30, 2004, 11:23 PM
Fighting solo in a controlled retreat that allows wounded evac AFTER you've been personally wounded does sound like MOH-class work to me.

Hats off regardless of whether or not he scores it.

Bob F.
May 31, 2004, 10:13 AM
I guess you would be proud, I would be & I'm not related or even know him!!

Congrats, and stay safe.

Ala Dan
May 31, 2004, 01:21 PM

Many thanks to your dad for his service to our great country.
I commend his actions in the face of grave danger. Hopefully
he will get the medals that he deserves.

But one thing is for sure, some U.S. Military personel got
nothing for their actions and sacrifices. When medals are
awarded, it depends a lot on "who sees what", with the
proper documentation to follow. One of the hardest of
all medals to earn is the Combat Medic Badge, as it
as to be witnessed by an officer* on the spot; cuz there
is no time for delay. Not many of these were awarded
during the Nam years.

*Footnote: Regimental Commander MUST give the specfic
place (in six didgit coordinates), time, type, and intensity
of fire on the proposed recipient. Simply being attached
to a combat unit and not coming under direct enemy fire
is not worthy of this commendation.

Good Luck and Best Wishes For Your Dad~

Ala Dan, N.R.A. Life Member

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