The Vietnam War is one of the most controversial military actions in United States history.
Alan Smith was on the front lines, and memories of life in the war zone can still be painful.
"You're going in looking for Viet Cong with a flashlight and a 45. And, you hope you don't find any because there's not many things you can do once that happens," he remembered. "You know you spend your whole life trying to forget this, it's not like something you wanna bring back up."
While the memories can be tough, two years ago Smith started to gather his wartime honors to preserve them for his family. That's when he realized he never received his Bronze Star, and started the process to claim the military honor.
"I felt like I really done something great and I earned my keep," he told Ruth to the Rescue back in late June.
Running Into Roadblocks
Smith's calls to the military uncovered a frustrating situation. Even though his official discharge paper the DD-214 listed the Bronze Star Medal among his commendations, the Army told Smith he needed more proof to show he'd actually earned the medal.
"I felt like somebody took it away from me," he said. Even more confusing, the National Archives and Records Administration sent him a letter that said some of the very evidence Smith needed to prove his case may have been destroyed. Back in the 1960s, the letter said, it was common to dispose of paperwork.
Smith maintained the DD-214 should have been enough. "That's is your life. If they put it there, it's there. If they can't find the paperwork, then they've made a mistake and if they made a mistake they're no staying so."
Contacting Ruth to the Rescue
After working with the Army and Senator Carl Levin's office for two years, Smith contacted Ruth to the Rescue for help. The consumer unit contacted the army and worked with the Senator's office looking for answers. There were several calls to the Army and Senator Levin's office kept working on the issue in Washington D.C.
Finally, it mid-August Smith learned he would receive his Bronze Star from Senator Carl Levin himself. During the brief reception, Levin thanked Smith for his service. He said, "Specialist 4 Smith's loyalty, diligence, and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service."
Levin pinned the Bronze Star to Smith's chest and ended a two year ordeal, more than 40 years after Smith was discharged. Levin's office is know for helping veterans claim overdue honors.
"This is what happens with a big bureaucracy at times. We're happy to try to do whatever we can to make it right. The media serves an important role in kind of public attention to important issues... We are very happy about your participation," said Senator Carl Levin of Michigan.
Smith also feels the attention from Ruth to the Rescue helped his cause. "It takes a little bit of media to get it out there and it's amazing the doors you can open, it's just amazing," said Smith after the ceremony.
Most importantly, Smith says he shares his Bronze Star Medal with friends-- who never made it home. "I feel, honest to God, I feel that my friends who were such a big part of this are somewhere smiling."
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