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CEDAR CITY — A Vietnam War Veteran from Iron County finally received Thursday the medal he earned 40 years ago.
Retired Air Force Sergeant David Chung of Hamilton Fort now has the Purple Heart pinned on his chest, where once there were shrapnel wounds.
"My mind is like a kaleidoscope, because I'm starting to think of everything we went through," he said at the Cedar City ceremony where he received the medal.
In December 1972, as the U.S. prepared to pull out of Vietnam, chaos reigned. Chung was carrying classified documents, when the enemy attacked his convoy. He was driving a Jeep at the rear of the convoy and told the personnel onboard, "Get out, and find cover."
As he did the same, he spotted two soldiers in the truck in front of him, knocked out in the enemy attack. As he pulled them to safety, Chung endured a mortar explosion and enemy fire, as he fired back.
Shrapnel wounds riddled his chest and face, but initially, he was denied treatment. He's Asian-American, and was feared to be a Vietnamese soldier who stole the uniform. Chung says that was an aspect of the war that he had to deal with, and sensitively negotiate regularly.
"I wear an American uniform but I look like the enemy," he said. "So, it was hard to delineate who you were actually dealing with over there because you never knew what was on their mind."
Chung spent the next two years recovering in hospitals, but the documentation of his heroics was lost in the administrative chaos in the weeks that followed. The mistake wasn't corrected until recently when he dealt with a health issue with the Veterans Administration. James McElfresh is a VA accredited claims agent for NOVA, the National Organization of Veteran's Advocates. He helped push for Chung's medal, along with Utah Senator Orrin Hatch.
"It's a long-time coming," said McElfresh. "Over 40 years. When you're trying to get a purple heart for a wounded veteran, it is a long, arduous process."
"This is a man who has made a real difference, and made a real difference for veterans, and he's still doing it," Senator Hatch said. "We should never let our veterans down."
In his career, Chung worked for the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and was instrumental in creating the Vietnam Women's Memorial, and transporting the monument to Washington.
He said his wife motivated him to help other vets, because "she was helping veterans before I met her." She would say to him: "We have to make sure these guys' records are straight. We have to make sure we're helping the right veterans, that we're not helping wannabes."
Chung may still receive a Bronze Star for his actions, but he shrugs off any accolades and salutes his comrades who did not come home.
"Go to Washington, D.C., and go to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial," he says. "Go to panel two west, and look at all of those names. Most of the guys on that wall are my guys."