Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Veteran finally receives his Bronze Star Medal for 1967 battle in Vietnam

Veteran finally receives his Bronze Star Medal for 1967 battle in Vietnam

Dan Blottenberger / S&S
Retired Army Staff Sgt. Alfred Pankey takes a look for the first time at his Bronze Star Medal with “V” device after receiving it in the mail on July 20. The medal arrived almost 40 years after Pankey earned it for his actions during the Vietnam War. Purchase reprint

BAMBERG, Germany — The package Alfred Pankey had waited more than 40 years for finally arrived.

The retired Army staff sergeant, now 69, hobbled into the post office on crutches anxiously looking for his long overdue Bronze Star Medal with “V” device for his acts of valor in a battle that claimed the lives of nine of his comrades.

“Yeah man, I was awarded this in Vietnam, but I never received the medal,” Pankey said, proudly holding his newest possession.

“I’ve been trying to get this award for the longest time.”

After retiring in Germany with his family in 1982, Pankey began the process of searching through his military records and contacting his hometown retirement center to see what happened to his award. He said he sent numerous letters and made tons of phone calls.

Then his luck changed six to eight months ago when he was notified by the U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command that he would be receiving his Bronze Star.

“This was the last chance I had right here,” he said pointing to the TACOM address on the envelope.

The TACOM representative in Philadelphia, from where the medal was delivered, said they are only responsible for shipping the medals once the National Personnel Records Center verifies the award is legitimate.

The NPRC answered Stripes queries with an automated response and did not address questions about why the specific medal review took so long.

Pankey recalled the horrific battle for which he earned the award.

Then-Sgt. Alfred Pankey was serving with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment out of Blackhorse Base Camp on June 19, 1967, near the Cambodian border when his unit was attacked by “mortars, rockets, recoilless rifles, automatic weapons, and small arms fire from an estimated battalion of Viet Cong,” his citation reads.

Pankey simply calls it “a bad night.”

According to the citation, Pankey rallied his men and maneuvered them to strengthen a vital part of the perimeter.

“Seeing his platoon leader and platoon sergeant cut down by hostile fire, Sergeant Pankey courageously took command of his platoon,” the citation reads.

He then guided his men to rescue a heavily engaged combat patrol that was 1,000 yards away, and thanks to his leadership, the unit evacuated all casualties and all their equipment.

“He forced the insurgents to withdraw and then collected several guerrilla weapons and returned to the perimeter with them,” the citation reads.

During the fighting, the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment lost seven soldiers from K Troop and two from the 919th Engineer Company.

“The next day we found what platoon had the most men left. … It was a bad night that night when we got hit,” he said.

In the end he offered a simple piece of advice:

“No one can help you like you can help yourself,” he said about his 40-year quest to get his Bronze Star.

Pankey knew he had earned the medal, so why not just purchase one on the Internet?

“I never did buy it because you are supposed to be given this award,” he said.

When asked if he still wants to have it pinned to his chest, he humbly responded, “That’s OK, they don’t have to come pin it on me.”

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