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Veterans awarded overdue Bronze Star medals

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As the nation approaches Veterans Day, two former service members -- one from World War II, the other from the Vietnam War -- were awarded their long-awaited Bronze Star medals in a ceremony at the Defense Information School here, Friday.

Keynote speaker U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland worked to ensure that former Army doctor Capt. Charles E. Rath Jr. and former Army medic Spc. 4 Charles Shyab received their medals.

Mikulski presented the awards to the veterans, along with flags that had flown over the U.S. Capitol, at the ceremony.

Misplaced paperwork was the cause of Rath waiting 67 years, and Shyab 44 years, for their medals.

Rath, 93, said his Bronze Star was approved in 1945. Shyab's Bronze Star for valor was authorized in 1968 after he saved many American Soldiers' lives and was wounded on Chu Moor Mountain in Vietnam, near Ho Chi Min Trail.

"This Veterans Day and every day, we are thankful for the service and sacrifice of all our veterans and their families," Mikulski said. "Our veterans who fought for our freedom shouldn't have to fight for the recognition they have earned. I went to work to cut through the red tape and break through the bureaucracy to give these two heroes the long-overdue honor they deserve."

"Here at the Defense Information School," she continued, "we're demonstrating that a grateful nation never forgets."

Mikulski described the ceremony as "very poignant and well-deserved." Shyab and Rath, she added, "deserve these medals, but also our gratitude."

Rath said he was drafted into the Army as a doctor during World War II following his internship. His Bronze Star citation noted his meritorious achievement in support of the 63rd Infantry "Blood and Fire" Division's drive through Central Europe.

From mid-February 1945 until the end of the war, the 63rd Infantry Division made a path of "blood and fire" from Sarreguemines through the Siegfried Line to Worms, Mannheim, Heidelberg, Gunzburg and ending in Landsberg, Germany, at the end of April 1945, when the division was pulled from the line for a much-needed rest, according to the history of the 63rd Infantry Division.

Shyab, 68, said he was in one of three companies ordered to ascend Chu Moor Mountain, where Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia meet. They faced a battalion of enemy forces.

"We were in [the enemy's] backyard," he said of the fight that April day in 1968. "Once they found out we were there, they started mortaring us and when our place went over to drop a 500-pounder, they used that noise to mortar us and that's when I got wounded."

Shyab said the Soldier who got him safely to a helicopter for evacuation never made it back to his foxhole.

Thirty men were killed in action during that firefight, Shyab said, another 70 were wounded and 15 were evacuated off the mountain.

Shyab said he doesn't recall exactly how many lives he saved that day.

"The men we lost will always be remembered," he said during the ceremony.

Article by Terri Moon Cronk, Army.mil