A Vietnam Veteran Finally being Awarded a Bronze Star

In 1970, Antonio Martinez was sent to a hilltop in the Duc Pho area of Vietnam. He and other members of Company B, 4th Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 11th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division were part of a helicopter combat assault. The crew, along with specially trained “booby trap” canines, began an assault/search-and-destroy mission. The unit was taking hostile fire when the mission was interrupted by the dogs tripping a wire, resulting a massive explosion. The two dog handlers, Cpl. William Reed and Pfc. David Nudenberg, as well as Pfc. Joe Billy McNett of Bravo Company were killed by the explosion. Staff Sgt. Steve Aggert sustained fragment wounds to his legs.

Bravo Company’s commander, 1Lt.  John Lappini remembers the incident well. According to him, the force of the blast knocked Spec. Martinez to the ground and fanned out more than 25 meters across the booby trap laden area. Lappinin remembers that the young soldier, Martinez, immediately sprung into action and began collecting the remains of his fallen comrades, including the dogs, onto ponchos to prepare them for evacuation.

Martinez left Vietnam and the Army without any formal commendation for his actions that day. When Iappini realized that fact decades later, he went to work ensuring the oversight was corrected. Iappini set his sights on a Bronze Star for Valor. Along with other former members of Bravo Company, Iappini  spent more than a year writing letters, gathering supporting evidence and submitting paperwork so that Martinez could receive the proper recognition. They enlisted the help of several Congressmen in their effort, including Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and especially Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas, Martinez’s home of record.

Iappini wrote in his recommendation that, “Martinez exemplified bravery and courage beyond the call of duty. He was determined not to leave behind our fallen Vietnam comrades and their body parts in the field of battle.”

On Sept. 22, 2011, the Secretary of the Army signed the citation awarding Martinez the Bronze Star for Valor for his actions 40 years earlier.

The citation reads, “The heroic actions of Specialist Martinez helped to save the lives of many soldiers. Specialist Martinez’s actions are in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, 23d Infantry Division and the United States Army.”

On Friday, April 20, 2012, Martinez will be presented with his Bronze Star at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at 2 p.m. by retired Col. Vernon Sones, who commanded of the 4th Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 11th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division during its stand down in 1971.

So many stories like this came out of Vietnam and those stories must be told. The Education Center at the Wall will be a place for those stories to live on and for future generations to learn, honor and remember the lives of those who are listed on The Wall.