I think my Dad's a war hero
November 6, 2008 9:44 AM   Subscribe

My dad is a decorated Vietnam war vet. How can I find his records?

I recently learned that my dad received a number of medals for heroism for his service as an army helicopter pilot in the Vietnam war. While he has amazed my siblings and me with his flying stories he has always been very elusive about the details of his experience in Vietnam and has never mentioned the honors and recognition he received. A family friend shared with me that he at the very least received a bronze star.

This year marks his 65th birthday and I would like to put together some sort of commemorative display. How can I track down his record and documentation? I have know idea what has become of his medals...
posted by mistsandrain to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
He can request replacement medals from the government (usually once at no charge). It can only be done without the veterans' cooperation when the veteran is dead.
posted by Jahaza at 9:53 AM on November 6, 2008

Here's where you can get the records.
posted by lee at 10:01 AM on November 6, 2008

My older brother did this as a present to my dad - he ordered replacements for all of my (deceased) grandfather's WWII service medals. While that made a really meaningful gift for my dad, you might wish to consider your own father's feelings about his service. If he hasn't talked much about it, perhaps he doesn't want any reminders. I know my father-in-law doesn't talk much about his time in Vientnam, and my wife learned at a young age not to ask about it unless he volunteered some information on his own.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:04 AM on November 6, 2008

@caution live frogs

I think it's true that he has historically had discomfort with and many hidden hurts (I don't think shame is one of them- trauma and grief, yes, but not shame) over his service but after enough asking around and gauging his reactions to some of my questions- I think it would mean a lot to him b/c it would demonstrate that his children, on some level, "get it", that he sacrificed and it's worth something to us to honor him. Even if he would not want any sort of display- I'm sure my brother would love to have it- or perhaps my son would one day.
posted by mistsandrain at 10:21 AM on November 6, 2008

If he's anything like my dad, he has the medals, tucked away in the back of the armoire somewhere. My dad doesn't feel much attachment toward the medals, thinking of the guys who got killed in the same situation for which he was honored. He's proud of his service and would probably love to see his old records, though. Just another data point from the kid of a vet.
posted by desuetude at 11:19 AM on November 6, 2008

Seconding clf. Not everyone who gets medals is proud of them. For some it's a reminder of a very bad situation, or actions that they aren't wholly proud of whether that be taking a civillian life or successfully reaching cover that other comrades did not.

There is also the possibility of there being something in the records that a parent would not choose for his children to know. Not necessarily about his service performance, but about anything number of things that bureaucracies meticulously record.

You'd be better of honoring the parts he's shared with you voluntarily, or ask his blessing first. Think how sad you'd both be if your attempt to show him love and gratitude somehow backfired. Just hearing "Dad, this year we'd like to do something special to honor your sacrifice and show you much we appreciate your service -- what would you like?", would surely mean a lot to anyone.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 1:02 PM on November 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

As I said in my previous comment- my intuition is that it would be okay to do this. I think my father does have some hurts -who wouldn't- that linger. But, I do not get a sense of shame- only grief and also a lot of modesty. I think that he would be touched by the gesture. Thanks for the links that were posted.
posted by mistsandrain at 2:45 PM on November 6, 2008

If you are interested in some kind of display with his medals and badges, check out usmedals.com. They have different sections for the different services branches, and a specific Vietnam section.
posted by lullaby at 5:46 PM on November 6, 2008

The SF-180 form should (evetually) fetch his whole personnel file. Replacement medals are free and come pretty fast. I did these for my grandpa's stuff (he died, silent about his service, in 1981), and it all came through -- though I did need to file the SF-180 three times.

Mind that, since your dad is, you know, still alive, he needs to sign the forms himself. :7) You could probably buy the case ahead of time (craft stores sell them for like $15, or you can get USMedals to build you one to fit in whatever stuff he has; see http://www.usmedals.com/DisplayCaseBridge.aspx) and give it to him with the completed form and an envelope. When the replacement medals arrive, there are some strict rules about precedence of arranging the decorations, but you have a lot of flexibiity otherwise. And your dad may still have some of his uniform elements -- unit patches, rank insignia, ID cards, etc., etc. -- that he'd like to include. Or not. *shrug* You two will have to work this out carefully.

I bought replica WWII 13th Air Force patches to go with my grandpa's replacement medals, along with a photo of him in uniform. I used a smaller case for one of his dog tags, the second tag having gone to his other namesake. I can send you the URL to a snapshot of the final case if you mail me.

Oh, and I found out from some research that my grandpa was entitled to three medals that were awarded by the Philippine governement. I wrote to the embassy in D.C., and the military attache there sent me replacements with certificates. Eerie to pull them out of the envelopes.

I ended up writing a long research paper on his service, and it was a great opportunity to learn more about world history and my family's history.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:41 AM on November 7, 2008

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