The attached article appeared in the Newport Plain Talk, the paper in Newport, TN where I was activities director and training to be a nursing home administrator at the local nursing home at the time.
Resident smoke breaks were divided up among the various departments for supervision. Every once in awhile one resident, Mike Price, would get a pained look on his face and say, "Got shot in Vietnam for nothing…." Everyone thought he was making it up. His medical record said he alleged being in the Marines, but there was no official record of him ever having served. I told him I was in the Marines, and we started talking. He knew it all…the rank structure, the jargon, and he was telling me things about Parris Island I'd forgotten a long time ago. There was no doubt in my mind whatsoever that Mike was in fact a Marine at one time.
I started looking into it, checking every public source of records I could find. There was no record. Finally I found a guy on the internet who said he knew how to get into records nobody was supposed to be able to access (God bless hackers!). He found one small record, just one line, that said "LCpl Mike Price, MOS 0311." That wasn’t the actual MOS, but that's not what's important. What's important is that when I went to Mike and asked him what his MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), he stated the exact same numbers. Bingo!
Now I was even more determined to find proof of Mike’s service in the Marines. I wrote the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Secretary of the Navy, Secretary of Defense, and the Vice President of the United States. Someone was going to find this record. It ended up being a congressman from Tennessee who helped us out. Our answer came in the form of two Marines showing up to take him away–he had been AWOL since 1969. Here's the story…
Mike's platoon was in the Quang Tri province of Vietnam, as far north as you can get while still being in South Vietnam. More ordnance and agent orange was dropped there than anyplace else in the entire war. That's where the most vicious firefights took place. During one such firefight, he watched over half of his platoon get killed and his best friend earn the Medal of Honor posthumously. Mike was shot in the foot. It was some time before they were able to medivac him out because of the firefighting. After triage in a military hospital in Germany, they sent him back to the states for some convalescent leave. He never went back. Between the time he returned from Germany until the day he ended up at the nursing home, Mike lived on the streets. When he got to the nursing home he was half dead from alcohol.
We told those two Marines that as soon as they got through doing whatever paperwork they were going to do, to get his tuckus (well, something like that…) back immediately. When he came back, it was with a discharge type that allowed him to still get full military benefits because of the extenuating circumstances of why he went AWOL. I wrote the Commandant of the Marine Corps again, and we were able to get his purple heart re-issued, complete with a copy of the original citation describing the circumstances. A bunch of us former Marines went through our closets and pieced together a uniform for him. The local JROTC provided a color guard. The VFW provided a rifle team. A divisional president in the company was a retired colonel and came to present it to him…he's the one in the picture. I'm the guy at the microphone, and the guy with the beard was the administrator. It was nothing short of glorious. But wait…it gets better.
Mike had always been volatile. He would break into fits of rage, would be cursing, and getting his temper back under control was a challenge. But from the day of that ceremony forward, he was as peaceful as a monk. He came up to me and thanked me for it, saying that the secret of being AWOL had tortured him his entire life and he was glad that was over. Not only was it over, he was validated for his sacrifices. Instead of the $30.00 allowance from Medicaid, he now got the $90.00 from the VA.
If you look at the picture, you'll notice he was on oxygen. He had throat cancer from the agent orange. We knew it was a race against time, one that we won. Shortly after the ceremony I finished my administrator in training program and got my first job as an administrator in Dalton, GA. About a month after I got to Dalton, the administrator from Newport called me. He said Mike was dying. He said they'd asked him if there was anything they could do, or if there was anyone he wanted to see before he went, and he nodded yes. They ran through a long list of names before they finally got to mine. He wanted to see me. I was in the car and on the road in 15 minutes. Mike was buried with full military honors.
Read the attached article at Veterans program includes presentation of Purple Heart.