More than 46 years after a Northeast Ohio veteran earned a Purple Heart serving in the Vietnam War, he finally has his medal.
Robert Conway joined the Marine Corps in 1970, when he was just 20 years old. Soon after, he was shipped off to Vietnam.
“I’m looking for the freeway ramp to hitchhike home. And there’s no ramp,” Conway said, laughing. “But you quickly adapt. You grow up quickly.”
On March 14, 1971, a day Lance Cpl. Conway recalls in vivid detail, his unit was sent on what was meant to be a quick mission. Quickly, it escalated.
“They were shooting, we were shooting, missiles were flying. Myself and 8 other Marines were hit by a rocket-propelled grenade,” Conway said. An artery in his leg was badly injured and he spent a month recovering in the hospital before going back out into the battlefield.
In June of 1971, Conway came home to the United States — without his Purple Heart.
“You didn’t ask, it was kind of like, forget it, just forget it. I came up against a lot of different walls when I was searching for it,” Conway said.
Some military records claimed he had received it, but Conway knew he hadn’t. So he kept searching, writing letters and making calls, off and on for 46 years.
Finally, in September of 2017, Conway received his Purple Heart in the mailbox at his home in Chagrin Falls.
“I was scared to open it. It was emotional,” Conway said. “You think, I could’ve just bought one, what’s the big deal? The big deal is government. This is what they tell you — if you go out to do your job and you get shot, we’re gonna give you one of these. I don’t know why, but it represents a lot of things to me.”
Conway said Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office was instrumental in helping him finally receive his Purple Heart.
More than 1.8 million Purple Hearts have been awarded to U.S. veterans wounded in combat.