Nearly 50 years after the day he earned it, Sgt. Edward Dvorak got his Silver Star on Wednesday for his service in the Vietnam War.
“It’s like a check-off on the internal moral clock that says I did the right thing,” the 68-year-old Lakebay man said after he was presented with the medal, “that I served honorably.”
Dvorak said he was surprised at the roughly 50 people who showed up at the ceremony, at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge Veterans of Foreign Wars post.
One of those was Undersecretary of the Army Patrick Murphy, who is visiting the region this week.
Another was Col. Myron Anderson, who helped recommend Dvorak for the honor.
The two served together in Vietnam and in 2004 started doing research to see whether soldiers they’d been with might be eligible for military honors.
It was during that process that Anderson asked some of the men from the team Dvorak led, Team 1-3 Long Range Patrol, about his service.
Anderson learned that Dvorak’s team was attacked by two rocket-propelled grenades Nov. 30, 1968, while trying to ambush an enemy trail near the Bien Hoa Army and Air Force base.
The blast wounded Dvorak, then 19, and several others.
Despite taking shrapnel to his left shoulder and chest (some of which is still there), Dvorak sped through enemy fire to an M-60 machine gun and fired back to protect his team.
During the fight, he refused treatment for his wounds and kept firing until helicopters came to extract his men.
To prove that, Anderson gathered documents from the National Archives and got statements from two of the team members, a couple of higher-ups and Dvorak himself, though it took some arm twisting to get him to write up his account.
“He’s a very humble individual and a very selfless person,” Anderson said.
They submitted the documents through Rep. Derek Kilmer’s office to request the Bronze Star medal, and Anderson said he wasn’t shocked when the Army upgraded Dvorak to the Silver Star.
“I felt that there might be something else available,” he said.
Dvorak, on the other hand, said he had to sit down when he got the letter notifying him of the honor. The Silver Star, awarded for gallantry in action, is the country’s third-highest military combat decoration.
Undersecretary Murphy thanked Dvorak for his service at the ceremony. He told the crowd: “That no-quit attitude is the embodiment of the American soldier.”
He said of the medal: “It’s something that’s long overdue and something that we’re so proud of as a nation.”
After the war, Dvorak married, had children, worked for more than 30 years with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. His wife, Patricia, was at Wednesday’s ceremony. His adult children had to work and couldn’t attend.
Neighbor Linda Wickstrom said she’d heard about Dvorak’s military service before, but not much.
“I knew that he’d received a Purple Heart,” she said after the ceremony. “He’s pretty private and humble, but every once in a while he would talk.”
Dvorak showed that humility when he told reporters: “Combat vets, when they come home, they have all these internal questions of why me, why not him, and so it’s a great honor.
“I’m humbled by it. I still don’t really believe that I deserve it, but I’ll take it.”
Standing nearby with a slight smile, it was clear Col. Anderson disagreed.