Sometimes, it takes a while for paperwork to catch up. Like, 46 years.
The 22-year-old Tampa kid, a radioman in Charlie Company, wasn’t thinking about medals or heroics. He crawled in the muck of a rice paddy in Vietnam with a radio on his back that felt like a big bulls-eye.
It seemed as if the entire Viet Cong army was out to kill him.
Three companies of the Army’s 9th Infantry Division had just walked into an ambush on the afternoon of June 19, 1967, in the Mekong Delta. Hundreds of enemy guns opened up. The radio operator tried to crawl to the only cover he could see — the earthen wall of a dike no more than a foot high.
Somewhere behind him in a village the Americans had just cleared, a sniper’s aim settled on the radioman’s back. A trigger was pulled.
The draftee would never reach the dike.
Paperwork does get lost. It’s a long way from the platoon leader to the battalion S-1 shop sometimes. And once lost, rebuilding the supporting documentation is difficult.
MJ tells us:
I was at a Lightning game last night and between one of the periods this story was presented on the big screen. A few other local soldiers were honored for medals they had recently received, but the crowd went absolutely nuts when Robert French was mentioned.
Better late than never.
And thank you, Mr. French.
I’m against the draft, but I’m also keenly aware that the vast majority of draftees performed their service honorably, and well.