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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

After 39 years

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Alan Gasperich -- 2007
The waiting ends

Imagine. You volunteer to go to a place where constant violence is a way of life.

In this place everyone hates you -- and you know it. You are always cautious, always anticipating an attack. Then, one day you sacrifice yourself, stepping into the line of enemy fire to shield fellow comrades.

You are admired by your country and especially by the men whose life you saved. You are a hero -- but it takes almost four decades before the United States Army acknowledges it.

"I'm just proud to know they (the Army) did find it," said 63-year-old Alan Gasperich of Mt. Pleasant.

Feb. 21 Gasperich went to get his mail but inside the box was so much more.

As a young man Gasperich enlisted with the Army. After his basic training, Gasperich was stationed in Vecenzia, Italy, just 30 miles from Venice.

"It was Italy, so there was some good wine -- it only cost 18 American cents," Gasperich said. "They always wondered what I really had in my canteen."

However, his time in Vecenzia was short lived.

In an attempt to protect his family, Gasperich volunteered to go to Vietnam. He said the military would not allow two men from the same family to fight in combat. "I volunteered (to go to Vietnam) to keep my brother from going," he said.

In Vietnam Gasperich saw unimaginable horrors, serving as an infantryman. Though he survived combat, the war left its mark on Gasperich. "I was wounded. I have x-rays of metal that's still in my right arm and leg," he said.

Nov. 25, 1968, Gasperich was discharged from service having earned several military recognitions -- one of which was a Purple Heart.

In 1972 a fire destroyed the Gasperich home, and the family lost everything they had -- including all of Gasperich's military medals. Gasperich contacted the military to replace his awards and discharge papers. The papers came -- his awards, including his Purple Heart, did not.

The Army told him they had no records showing that he was wounded, Gasperich said. The Army needed proof, and the only thing Gasperich had to commemorate his military service were his memories and a picture of himself, adorned with awarded medals, and his daughter that he kept in his wallet.

Since then Gasperich has remained persistent. He said he has spoken with numerous military officials and even contacted Congressman Marion Berry to ask for his help. Despite his diligence, he was given the same answer -- no.

Gasperich said he had recently given up. That's when he opened his mailbox to find a new Purple Heart medallion, an Army Commendation Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with a silver service star and a Valorous Unit Award.

There was no explanation, and Gasperich certainly wasn't expecting the medals. "They were just there, out of the blue," he said.

"This is a really good thing," said Fulton County Veteran Service Officer Joyce Crow, who has been working to help Gasperich receive his due recognition.

Crow said Gasperich's medals are not just a matter of pride, but they will also have monetary benefits.

"When they (soldiers) came back from the war they were young, so they were supposed to be tough," Crow said. "They didn't think to contact the VA -- all they wanted was to get home. But many health concerns that veterans develop as they get older are connected to their time in the service."

"The (Veterans Administration) has denied his claim for medical assistance because the military provided no material evidence," Crow said. "With this proof, his claim will be able to go forward ... he's blessed."

After 35 years of dealing with military red tape, Gasperich is glad his journey has reached a positive end. Even now, he still thinks of others.

"I feel sorry for the veterans who don't have a good turnout like me -- I'm lucky," Gasperich said.

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