HARRISON — A local veteran received his Purple Heart on Thursday, 46 years after he was injured during a "search and destroy" mission in Vietnam.
Stephen L. Andrews, 66, who served in the U.S. Army, was shot in his right leg April 6, 1967.
He was honorably discharged in December 1967 but never received his Purple Heart medal. The Department of the Army told his family it was overlooked.
“It's special. It's long overdue,” said Col. John Jansen, Maine National Guard chief of staff before he pinned the medal on Andrews.
More than 100 people, including family, friends and fellow veterans, attended the ceremony at the Ronald G. St. John VFW Post 9328 on Route 35. St. John was a native of Harrison who served in the U.S. Navy and was a casualty of the Vietnam War.
Past Post Commander Wayne Cadman welcomed the crowd, saying Andrews' courage, devotion and sacrifice for “a war he believed was right, a war that no one wanted,” were honored by the large turnout.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who worked with the family to ensure Andrews received the medal, said her father earned a Purple Heart for his service in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II 69 years ago.
“It was he who told me to honor and thank those who served,” Collins said.
She brought a U.S. flag that had flown over the nation's Capitol Building to give to Andrews.
He also was given a replacement Bronze Star and a Silver Star from the state of Maine. The Bronze Star is given for an act of heroism in a combat zone and is considered the nation's fourth-highest combat decoration. The Silver Star is given to Maine veterans who were wounded during combat and were authorized for Purple Heart medals.
Lori Andrews said before the ceremony that her husband was seeking medical treatment from the Togus VA Medical Center for a brain tumor that they believe is related to Agent Orange, a defoliant used by the U.S. military in Vietnam. When the couple was advised to file a claim for disability for his earlier leg injury, the Army said he was ineligible. The family sought help from Collins' office.
In August 2012, Collins filed papers with the Department of the Army after it was unable to verify Andrews' entitlement to the Purple Heart. Collins' office provided the evidence, and the Department of the Army reversed its original decision.
Lori Andrews said her husband was told he is now eligible for disability, but the benefits will not be retroactive.
Stephen's younger brother, Tom Andrews, who served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970, said in one word how he felt for his brother: “Happy.”