NEW WINDSOR, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A local Vietnam War veteran has fought for nearly 50 years to get his lost Purple Heart medal back.
On Thursday, an emotional ceremony was held for his long-overdue honor.
Paul Derogatis Jr. was drafted into the Army in 1969 at 20-years-old and sent to fight in Vietnam. Six months later, he was injured by Viet Cong mortar fire in his spine and legs.
“I can remember the machine gun fire from the VC,” Derogatis said. “(I was) put into a body cast and surgery after surgery, and then they came and printed the Purple Heart on the webbing of my cast.”
When he was transferred from the medical facility in Japan to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, his medals disappeared.
he was transferred from the medical facility in Japan to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington DC, his medals disappeared.
“The box was open, the Purple Heart was gone, the Bronze Star was gone,” he said.
For decades, he and his wife Barbara have been working to recover a replacement medal, but got wrapped in all sorts of red tape.
“Every time they keep asking, they just got pushed away and pushed away,” said daughter Christina Vitarella.
Finally, with the help of New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (D-18th), Derogatis was reissued a Purple Heart. It brought tears to his wife, knowing all he’s been through.
“It means a great deal, because of the way they were treated, the Vietnam veterans, when they first came home,” Barbara said. “You know, several times they called them the baby killer.”
Derogatis turns 70 years old on Monday, and his family hopes the replacement medal will bring him some peace after fighting for it for so long. He’s hoping his story will encourage other veterans to keep fighting for the benefits or lost medals they are due.