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News > Vietnam vet's long quest for Purple Heart ends with MacDill ceremony
Purple Heart
Former Staff Sgt. Jerry Kmieciak is congratulated by Col. Larry Martin, 6th Air Mobility Wing commander in a belated Purple Heart ceremony April 10 at MacDill Air Force Base.
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Vietnam vet's long quest for Purple Heart ends with MacDill ceremony

Posted 4/16/2010   Updated 4/16/2010 Email story   Print story


by Nick Stubbs
6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

4/16/2010 - MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The Purple Heart medal had been in Staff Sgt. Jerry Kmieciak's possession since it was pinned on in November of 1968, after his head and shoulder were riddled with shrapnel near Binh Thuy Air Base, Vietnam. For him the memory of the day he and Senior Airman

Mike Donovan were nearly blown to bits will never be forgotten, but he learned in 2005 that the military had long forgotten it.

While Sergeant Kmieciak was given the medal itself in Vietnam, it never was recorded officially. There was no paperwork or record, and it was that way for 42 years, until April 10, 2010, when in a small ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Col. Larry Martin, 6th Air Mobility Wing commander, pinned the Purple Heart on Mr. Gerald Kmieciak and handed him the paperwork that goes with it.

It was the end of a chapter in Mr. Kmieciak's life, and while he could have left the matter along, the oversight mattered to the Fort Meyers resident for a couple of reasons, not the least of which was that he earned it. The other was that it improved his status with the Veterans Administration, which could be beneficial in matters related to medical treatment.

"I never realized there was a problem," said Mr. Kmieciak, who learned there was no record of the medal or injury recorded when he registered with his local VA office.
He began writing letters to the Purple Heart Review Board, and joined a group called the Vietnam Brotherhood, which assisted him in trying to obtain the medal.

It was a long struggle, but after recovering hospital records that detailed the injury and established a place and time, an official Purple Heart was granted.

"It's a relief, and I'm glad I can move on with other things now," said Mr. Kmieciak following the ceremony Saturday, at the 6th Operations Group auditorium, where friends, family and fellow Vietnam vets were gathered. "It's been an ordeal."

Colonel Martin said, "It was our honor to help Sergeant Mmieciak celebrate and remember his service to the nation." "It's been a long wait," he added.

The resolution of the Purple Heart award provides just a bit more closure for Mr. Kmieciak, an important thing for many Vietnam veterans, particularly those brushed closely by death, or who saw their brothers fall. Their relationships with that place and time in history are bittersweet, life-shaping and life-changing sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, but for Staff Sgt. Kmieciak, a little of both.

By and large he embraces the better parts of the experience.

"I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world," he said of his service in Vietnam. "Some of it is hard, but I wouldn't trade it."

12/4/2014 1:09:44 PM ET
Please tell me the Address of The Purple Heart Review BoardHow I can contact them. My husband now deceased was given the Purple Heart without the certificate that was supposed to go with it when he was wounded in Korea. Arlington National Cemetery will NOT let me put Purple Heart on his stone without the Document that was supposed to accompany it.Please help me to solve this.
Mary Dash, Georgia
8/4/2012 2:17:29 PM ET
this has got to be the same jerry kmieciak. that I was with in the 22 tass at binh thuy ab vietnam the weapons glad you got your purple heart.god bless you.and all thoes of the 22 tass.
richard wulfekuhl, ozark ar
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