YORKVET earned Purple Heart in Vietnam; 48 years later, it finally becomes official

When local Vietnam vet Joe Bates found out his Purple Heart and 16 ribbons weren’t listed on his military record, the York County Veterans Affairs office stepped in to help fix it. (Our York Media)

On November 17, 1969, Joe Bates and his crewmates were returning from their last mission of the day, transporting soldiers to Vietnam’s Bong Son Valley.

As their Huey flew up the ridge, all eyes were on the jungle below.

“We hardly ever saw who was shooting,” Joe says, “you’d just see tracers coming up out of the trees.”

Suddenly, chaos exploded.

Hoping to get home

The helicopter made it to a nearby base but the damage had been done.

“I had two rounds in the left thigh, one in my right foot, one in my right arm, and another went in my helmet, ripped in through the communications wiring and out the back,” Joe says.

At the hospital, a Second Lieutenant pinned him with a Purple Heart. The honor is given to soldiers killed or wounded in action. Recipients receive benefits like a higher priority status for VA healthcare. It wasn’t something he thought about then.

“I had bigger worries: a wife and two kids. I hadn’t even met my youngest,” he says. “He was born about four months after I went in.”

Finding his Purple Heart

Like many veterans who returned home after Vietnam, Joe hid his injury. When people asked why he limped, he told them he’d been in a motorcycle crash.

“You just didn’t know how people would react in those days,” he says. “I learned to keep it to myself.”

Recently, however, Joe had to revisit that time in his life when he was diagnosed with a heart problem. The prescription would cost him $500 a month.

“I like to think that I went through something so that others don’t have to.”Joe Bates

A fellow veteran suggested he look into his military benefits to see what could be covered.

“The VA had the medical records,” he says, “but none of my 16 ribbons or the Purple Heart were listed.”

Eventually, Joe found Terry Gendron, Director of York County Veterans Affairs office. His team went to work to correct the record.

Joe now has a DD 214 that documents everything, Purple Heart and all.

Vietnam War Veterans Day

Joe is still quiet about many of his experiences in Vietnam.

But he’s grateful for the help he’s receiving now. His heart medication is paid for, he wears new eye glasses and he has hearing aids – all thanks to the help of York County Veterans Affairs.

“I like to think that I went through something so that others don’t have to,” he says. “We treat military members differently today. And I’m happy for that.”

On Thursday, March 29, Joe and other Vietnam vets will be honored in downtown York in front of the county’s administrative offices at 28 E. Market St.

Congressman Scott Perry, an advocate in raising appreciation for those who served during the Vietnam era, will be on hand.

“Thousands of Americans served our nation selflessly in Vietnam,” Perry says. “The celebration on March 29th is a great way for our community to show local Vietnam Veterans the appreciation they richly deserve but didn’t receive upon returning home from the war.”

Paid for by York County Department of Veterans Affairs

 Call: 717-771-9218

 Address: 28 E. Market St. York, PA 17401

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