By Jane Gervasoni
U.S. Army Public Health Command
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md., Aug. 30, 2011 - More than 40 years ago, Army 1st Lt. Robert C. Berkshire earned a Bronze Star Medal for valor during his service in Vietnam.
On his way stateside following his Vietnam tour of duty, Berkshire's duffel bag was stolen -- in the duffel bag was his Bronze Star. He never saw his medal again.
After his honorable discharge from the Army in 1971, Berkshire never said anything to his family or friends about the loss of his award. However, about a year ago, the subject of his military career came up while he was talking with David Kurk, a friend and fellow civilian employee in the laboratory at the U.S. Army Public Health Command here.
Berkshire told his friend about the loss of his Bronze Star and showed him the award certificate.
Berkshire explained that in June 1970 he and his platoon had flanked and destroyed an enemy position. Under heavy enemy fire, he'd also directed a medical evacuation of two wounded platoon members. Kurk was determined to see if he could help his friend be recognized for his heroic actions during the operation in Vietnam and replace his stolen medal.
Working with Berkshire's daughter, Alyson Berkshire, Kurk took action to have his friend recognized.
"No one in the family had heard about Dad's Bronze Star," Alyson said. "My parents have always been my heroes, and I wanted to make sure Dad could be honored as one."
Working with Command Sgt. Maj. Gerald C. Ecker, the Public Health Command's command sergeant major, Alyson and Kurk provided the paperwork necessary to secure a replacement Bronze Star. Lovetta Britton, the command's protocol officer, arranged a surprise award ceremony.
On Aug. 17, Army Brig. Gen. Timothy K. Adams, commander of the Public Health command, hosted the award ceremony to honor Berkshire's heroism. Berkshire was told his daughter was receiving an award, and that he was invited to participate in the ceremony.
During the ceremony, Adams turned to the Army veteran. "I understand you were in the Army and served in Vietnam," he said, "and I heard that you also lost something."
Berkshire, still unaware of the surprise presentation, thought Adams was referring to his recent hip surgery and replied, "Yes, I lost a piece of my hip." Adams then told Berkshire he'd receive a new Bronze Star Medal to replace the one stolen from him more than 40 years before.
"Your service to our country should be remembered and celebrated," Adams said. "It is my privilege to give you this award for your service."
Berkshire said he was stunned by the commander's words and the standing ovation from friends, family and co-workers at the award presentation.
"For you and everyone else to work so hard in replacing the medal that was so precious to me and that I thought I would never see again, I was basically speechless," Berkshire said to the general. "Please accept my deepest gratitude for your gracious act."
Ecker summed up the event's purpose.
"When an act of selfless service to our nation has been fulfilled, it is never too late to render honors and gratitude for the service," he said.
Army Brig. Gen. Timothy K. Adams
U.S. Army Public Health Command