Isadore Sylve had been in Vietnam only a few weeks when he took a bullet from enemy fire.
On Friday, 49 years later, he finally was awarded the Purple Heart for his injuries.
“I really enjoyed my life in the military even though I was a draftee,” Sylve said in halting voice while reclining on a hospital bed in his Lacey home following a short ceremony. “I’ve enjoyed being part of the American dream.”
His wife, Roswitha, said the long delay in the recognition was due to bureaucracy and mistakes.
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“He’s been fighting for his Purple Heart for almost his entire life, for 50 years,” she said.
While in the Army, Sylve served in the signal corps, a branch responsible for communications. In 1969, he was sent to Vietnam.
The signal corps is known for its secrecy.
“That is the perfect unit for him because this man has never talked about anything,” his wife said.
He especially didn’t like to talk about himself.
“That’s why he never got the Purple Heart because that’s the kind of guy he is,” Roswitha added.
In July 2016, Sylve was diagnosed with stomach cancer. That spurred him to try again to receive the medal.
Two months ago, his Purple Heart arrived — unceremoniously.
“They dropped it off by the front door step,” his wife said. “I didn’t know what this little box was all about.”
Sylve was happy to finally hold it.
“He had tears in his eyes because he finally got what he wanted,” Roswitha said.
During an emergency room visit on Dec. 11, Roswitha mentioned to a doctor that Sylve had never formally been presented the Purple Heart, a medal given only to those wounded in combat.
The doctor urged her to contact Sen. Patty Murray’s office, which arranged for Friday’s ceremony.
Murray, D-Washington, was on a plane to Washington, D.C.,Friday afternoon to work on the looming government shutdown, but she sent a representative to the ceremony.
“A proper recognition of your brave service is long overdue,” she wrote in a letter presented and read to Sylve.
Col. Robert Arnold with I Corps at Joint Base Lewis-McChord came to the Sylve house to pin the medal on him. The house was filled with family, friends and neighbors.
“This is such an honor for me to be able to do this,” Arnold told the crowd. “No one wants to be wounded in combat and receive a Purple Heart.
“I can’t thank you enough for your actions serving our country,” he told Sylve.
Time is precious for Sylve. The cancer has spread.
“We just pray and hope, waiting for the miracle that he’s going to be coming through,” Roswitha said. “I just know it’s going to happen.”