Last Tuesday, March 19, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Acting Senior Commander, Brig. Gen. Mark Stammer presented the Purple Heart award to Sgt. Donnie Roach (retired) of Portland for injuries sustained in the Vietnam in 1969.
The award was more than 40 years overdue, yet the memories were still fresh as Roach was overcome with emotion at the ceremony.
“It was very emotional,” Roach explained Sunday evening from his Portland home. “I had to stop several times in my speech.”
Just 19 years old, he was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War. He didn’t want to go, but accepted his fate.
“I didn’t want to go,” he explained. “Like any 19-year-old, I would rather stay around and go to the Portland poolroom or somewhere like that. But when I was drafted, and was there, I committed myself to what I was doing. I accepted it. “
Roach has his draft card framed and on display. He feels it is a piece of history that has a story to tell.
While in Vietnam, he was wounded on his left side by shrapnel when his base came under attack.
When he returned to his unit after his injuries, it was disbanding. Everyone was going to other units, which resulted in no reports getting filed for him to receive the award.
Recently, his wife, Cheryl, encouraged him to do the paperwork necessary to receive the award.
“My wife told me I wasn’t getting any younger,” he said with a laugh.
He had the medical records to prove his injuries, but needed an eyewitness. He tracked down a soldier from Missouri who was with him in the battle. Once he located the eyewitness, his paperwork was complete.
In reflecting on the long war fought on foreign territory, Roach said, “I would like to think we contributed to the fall of a lot of communist countries. I think we helped to pave the way for the USSR being dissolved.”
Staff Sgt. Richard McLain was also received the Purple Heart Medal for injuries he received in 2010 in the Afghanistan War.
According to The Purple Heart web page, the Purple Heart Medal is awarded to military men and women for wounds suffered in combat. For more information on the award go to: www.purpleheart.org.