Twelve people will be inducted into the hall of fame.
By CATHY SECKMAN
BOARDMAN -- Some 30 years after the end of his Vietnam War service, Joe Sepesy of Boardman will receive the Ohio Medal of Valor and be inducted into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame for distinguishing himself as an Army helicopter pilot.
"Initially, I was surprised because I didn't know anything about the award. After thinking about it, I felt honored," said Sepesy, a Hillman Middle School teacher, who will receive the medal from Gov. Bob Taft and be inducted into the hall of fame May 2 in Columbus.
The ceremony will take place at 11:30 a.m. at Veterans Plaza at the Ohio Statehouse. Twelve people will be inducted, three of them posthumously.
"It's a great honor," Sepesy said. "It's going to be emotional. I think it's going to be more meaningful because of the conflict in Iraq. Everyone's interest is heightened.
Sepesy, an Army chief warrant officer, served three tours in Vietnam, accumulating 2,200 combat hours and suffering a broken back when the helicopter he co-piloted was shot down.
"I got shot down, shot up four times, shot at I don't know how many times," he said. "You don't think about it. You just go do your job, and you don't even worry about it."
Having received two Air Medals for valor, Sepesy said he recently learned that a third one, which he hasn't received, is shown in his service record. He also received three Bronze Stars and three Army commendation medals and was nominated for two Distinguished Flying Crosses.
In addition, he received 74 awards for the Air Medal -- one for each 25 hours of combat flying time.
His wife, Lesley, and daughter, Jackie, will accompany him to Columbus, along with his father, Stephen, of Berlin Center, and other family members.
When he returned to civilian life in 1973 after his final tour of duty in Vietnam, many people lacked interest in, or appreciation of, the experiences of Vietnam veterans, Sepesy said.
That's changed, he added.
"I think people are starting to appreciate veterans more," Sepesy said. "I've noticed that personally in the last few years. Perhaps Desert Storm started changing people's opinions about the military.
"The Vietnam vet fought, bled and died as bravely as any other veteran in any other war," Sepesy said. "The leaders of today -- [Gen. Norman] Schwarzkopf, [Gen.] Tommy Franks -- they had their baptisms of fire in Vietnam. They're great leaders. They represent the caliber of soldier that fought in Vietnam. The hall of fame, which honors Ohio veterans who received medals for valor in combat, was founded six years ago by Robert White of Columbus, a Vietnam veteran.
White said he got the idea for the hall after meeting regularly with five other vets.
"Ed Arthur [another vet and co-founder] and I started talking about the fact that some vets who received awards for valor hadn't gotten any real recognition," White said. "Their medals came in the mail. "We wanted a hall of fame that would recognize the common soldier, sailor, airman, whoever, who had received awards for valor and for valor only."
A separate cause
As far as the group's founders know, Ohio is the only state that officially recognizes its military heroes this way. When the founders developed the hall, they encountered initial reluctance from the Ohio Office of Veterans Affairs, which was concerned that people would confuse the new OMHOF with the state's Veterans' Hall of Fame.
"The big difference," White explained, "is that the Veterans Hall of Fame recognizes vets after their military service for civilian accomplishments like becoming a senator or a judge. Our hall recognizes you for a heroic action in a combat situation."
After clarifying differences between the two halls of fame, the OMHOF was established with the assistance and support of David Aldstadt, director of the Governor's Office of Veterans Affairs, and U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi of Columbus, R-12th. The first induction ceremony was July 7, 2000, and a new class of 12 is honored each year.
A permanent Ohio Military Hall of Fame exhibit is maintained at Motts Military Museum in Groveport, Ohio, owned by OMHOF supporter Warren Motts. Also on display at the museum is one of the Huey helicopters Sepesy flew in combat, painted in its Vietnam-era colors and displaying Sepesy's name and rank.
The exhibit eventually will include Sepesy's uniform and logbooks, plus a videotape made when he first saw the helicopter at the museum two years ago.
"It's incredible -- the fact that that helicopter and I are linked again after all those years, and now, on the heals of that, this award," Sepesy said.
"This is our fourth class," White said, "and we're always searching for Ohio veterans who qualify. One of this year's inductees, our first woman, was the only female killed by hostile fire in Vietnam. She was a nurse, trying to protect her patients. Her mother will accept the award."
The OMHOF also is committed to education. The hall provides speakers to schools and for other occasions, and its leaders can consult with veterans in other states who are interested in similar projects. They encourage the public to learn about America's military past by visiting the museum and Web site.
The other 2003 inductees:
*Richard L. Childers, Distinguished Service Cross, Waverly.
*Robert L. Coleman, Navy Cross, Dover.
Norman H. Lambert, Silver Star, Galloway.
Jean G. Peltier, Silver Star, Hilliard.
Ervin E. Powell, Silver Star, New Washington.
Russell W. Bigham, Distinguished Flying Cross, Lancaster.
Seymour R. Brown, Bronze Star with "V" Device, University Heights.
*Sharon A. Lane, Bronze Star with "V" Device, Canton.
Noah R. Rockel, Bronze Star with "V" Device, New Lebanon.
William C. Smith, Bronze Star with "V" Device, Worthington.
James E. Bolen, Air Medal with "V" Device, Springboro.
*Award given posthumously.
XThe OMHOF Web site is www.ohioheroes.org.