Yorba Linda veteran finally awarded Purple Heart 53 years after being wounded in Vietnam

Rob McMillan Image
Tuesday, September 5, 2023
OC vet finally awarded Purple Heart 53 years after wounded in Vietnam
More than 53 years after being wounded in the field of battle in Vietnam, a U.S. Army veteran in Yorba Linda was finally awarded the Purple Heart.

YORBA LINDA, Calif. (KABC) -- More than 53 years after being wounded in the field of battle in Vietnam and nearly losing his hand in the attack, a U.S. Army veteran was finally recognized with the distinct honor of being awarded the Purple Heart.

"For a long time, I didn't think I deserved it," said Larry Cruz of Yorba Linda, who remains modest about his service. "I did wonder why I didn't get the award, but I never asked any questions. In the Army, you don't ask any questions; you just say 'Yes, sir' or 'No, sir' and that's about it... I feel proud today that this is happening to me."

Spc. Cruz enlisted in the Army in January 1969 and attended basic training at Fort Ord to become a tank driver before deploying to Vietnam.

On July 20, 1970, he and six others were wounded when they were attacked by North Vietnamese soldiers. Cruz had shrapnel removed from his body and was flown by medical helicopter to safety. It's likely he would have lost his hand in the attack had it not been for the fact that the bullet hit his class ring.

But until recently, Cruz had never received the Purple Heart, an award given in the name of the president to soldiers killed or wounded in battle. His wife said it's because for some reason, information about him being wounded in battle had slipped through the cracks.

"He didn't get the recognition he should have had when he was in Vietnam or when he came home," said Pam Cruz, who for years had been appealing to the Army Board for Correction of Military Records to document his service and injury.

Many of Cruz's brethren remember how things were much different back then. Not only were many Vietnam veterans not honored, they were shamed.

"High school buddies who I thought were my buddies pretty much abandoned (me)," said James Wiskus, an Army veteran.

In late July, Cruz finally received notice that his records were being corrected. Not only would he be awarded the Purple Heart, but also the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross for his action in Vietnam.

"It's a wonderful story about never giving up," said Steven Varges, Commander of the American Legion Post 181 in Brea. "It's why I'm here and proud to be a part of it because we never forget."

Pam Cruz said her husband, who recently suffered a stroke, acknowledged that he was pleased that he was finally recognized for his service.

"Last night, he told me 'I think they're thanking me now honey, for me serving in Vietnam,' and I said, 'Yeah they are. This is your day.' We're lucky," said Pam Cruz, fighting back tears.