LEWISTON — Dr. Alex Norzow of Bowdoin has pieced together a few details about the incident that earned his grandson, Spc. Alex Norzow III, the Bronze Star.
He knows there was a Taliban ambush. Men were killed. And he knows Alex, whom he raised from the age of 7, did something extraordinary.
"They don't give you the Bronze Star for ducking," the elder Norzow said.
The star was pinned on his grandson on Dec. 7 by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who traveled to remote Forward Operating Base Joyce in eastern Afghanistan to honor Norzow and his comrades.
The Bronze Star is awarded for heroism. Norzow's medal, and the others awarded by Gates, came with a V device, distinguishing them as earned in combat.
Dr. Norzow learned of the honor last week. He and his grandson talk on the Internet when they can, via Skype calls or Facebook messages. The 20-year-old soldier told him about the award but was reluctant to give too much detail.
"He told me, 'I was acting with adrenaline,'" the elder Norzow said. "'I don't know if I'd do it again.'"
To Dr. Norzow, it's only the most recent cause for pride in a young man he describes as honest and principled.
"He's a very kind guy," the doctor said.
After graduating from Pine Tree Academy in Freeport in 2008, the younger Alex expressed an interest in enlisting.
"He wanted to go to the military and serve his country," Dr. Norzow said. "I tried to talk him out of it."
The elder Norzow had served as a doctor in Vietnam. He saw his own horrors.
"I hate war because there are so many innocents who get killed," he said.
But he supported his grandson once his decision was made.
Alex Norzow III earned honors for marksmanship and physical fitness when he graduated from basic training. The honors were even more surprising since he was hospitalized for a leg injury just weeks before basic training began.
He wanted to go in the infantry, and he earned a place, eventually being assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division. The unit is headquartered at Fort Campbell, Ky.
Norzow has been in Afghanistan since May.
"I feel so much pride," Dr. Norzow said.
He isn't alone.
During the awarding of the medals, Gates also talked of his pride and responsibility.
“I feel a personal responsibility for each and every one of you, since I sent you here,” Gates said, according to a Pentagon news story. “I feel the sacrifice, hardship and losses more than you'll ever imagine. So, I just want to thank you and tell how much I love you guys.”
Dr. Norzow said he understands his grandson's reluctance to talk about the incident that earned him the medal. After all, so many soldiers don't want to talk about those moments, particularly when a friend is killed.
"It must leave an emptiness in your heart," Dr. Norzow said.