Paul Derogatis Jr. received multiple medals for his service in Vietnam, but for almost 50 years, he has been fighting to have physical proof of his meritorious service.
According to Spectrum News, Derogatis was 20 years old when he was gravely wounded by an exploding mortar shell in Vietnam in 1969. The only thing he remembers about the incident that left him in a full body cast was the rattle of machine gun fire, and being pulled back by the neck to relative safety by a fellow soldier named Louis Testa.
When Derogatis came to after the attack, he was in a hospital in Japan, where he was in a full body cast and given surgery after surgery. According to WLNY-TV, Derogatis said, "(I was) put into a body cast and surgery after surgery, and then they came and printed the Purple Heart on the webbing of my cast." Derogatis was awarded the purple heart and the bronze star for meritorious service in a combat zone.
Eventually, Derogatis says he was transferred from Japan to Walter Reed Medical Center, and when he arrived at Walter Reed, both his purple heart and bronze star were gone due to apparent theft. "The box was open, the Purple Heart was gone, the Bronze Star was gone."
Derogatis and his wife promptly started working to get replacement medals, but the family says their attempts were repeatedly frustrated by red tape. Derogatis' daughter, Christina Vitarella, told WLNY that "Every time they keep asking, they just got pushed away and pushed away."
Finally, Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) found documents proving that Derogatis was wounded while serving his country in Vietnam, and helped push through the application for a replacement medal.
Derogatis and his family are overjoyed to finally have the replacement medal after such a long fight, but they are still waiting for Derogatis' bronze star to be replaced.
Additionally, they want to make sure that Testa, who died years ago of cancer related to Agent Orange exposure, receives proper posthumous recognition for his service. Derogatis' wife told Spectrum News, "We really would like to see something go to Louis Testa's family, for him saving his life."