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May 25, 2012

Vietnam veteran receives medals 46 years after active duty ends

Southern Indiana man calls finally getting hardware an 'honor'

JEFFERSONVILLE — It’s better late then never.

It has been 46 years since retired Navy Airman Robert Austin, a Madison resident, left active duty aboard the USS Yorktown, and 43 years since he was discharged from the Navy. But it took more than four decades for Austin to receive the medals he earned for his service during the Vietnam War.

"[They are] something I've been waiting for, for a long time," Austin said standing in Congressman Todd Young's office Friday afternoon.

Young, R-Ind., presented Austin with a Vietnam Service Medal with two Bronze Stars and a National Defense Medal for his three years of service aboard the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown in the South China Sea.

Austin said he helped to manage the flight deck and planes aboard the aircraft carrier from 1964-66.

"When we came back from overseas and my time was up ... the only thing I had time to do was park my sea bag and check out through personnel on the carrier," he said. "They didn't have anything to give me at that time."

He spent some time in the reserves and was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1969. Following his discharge, Austin never received the medals for his service.

Decades later, he said he received a letter that said he was issued those medals in March 2001.

"I said, 'hey, I'm talking 46 years ago here,'" Austin said when he received the letter. "Who got my medals? I didn’t get them."

And another decade later, Austin contacted Young’s office to try and collect the remembrances of his service.

Justin Stevens, a case worker for Young's office, said when he contacted the governmental agency which handles distributing the medals, they explained that Austin received his medals twice. When Stevens asked the agency to provide the evidence that the military honors were received, Young's office instead got a set of two new medals in the mail.

"I'm proud to get what I should’ve had a long time ago," Austin said. "It's a great honor to get them. "

It only seems appropriate that what was due 46 years ago was received Memorial Day weekend.

"I served my country and this is what I got for serving my country, "Austin said, matter-of-factly. "I got to see a lot of places that I never would’ve been able to see. Some good, some bad, but ... I was glad that I did what I did. It’s an experience that you’ll never forget. I'm proud of what I’ve done."

Young added it was a small token to show that Austin’s service was appreciated.

"We, of course, want to honor our living veterans, as well as those who have died in the line of duty, so the next generation will be inclined to serve," he said. "It's also just the right thing to do. This is one little way that we can show we appreciate them."

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