York vet receives his Purple Heart — 48 years later

York County Veterans Affairs office helps local Vietnam Vet correct incomplete military records.

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.”

I like to think that I went through something so that others don’t have to.

Joe Bates

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.”

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.”

Sponsored by York County Department of Veterans Affairs

Visit: York County VA website
28 E. Market St. York, PA 17401

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