Duane Heflin just got his medals a month ago for service in the Vietnam War.
By TIM YOVICH
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
CORTLAND -- It took nearly 40 years for 59-year-old Duane Heflin to find out he was a Vietnam War hero.
Heflin of Lakeview Drive doesn't believe he is a hero, but he has the Bronze Star with the "V" device for valor to prove it.
He says the heroes are the 58,195 who lost their lives in the war and whose names are on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Besides the Bronze Star with device, the Marine Corps sent him the Navy Commendation Medal with "V" device, Vietnam Campaign Medal and others.
"I was just tickled to death," Heflin said of receiving the Bronze Star about a month ago.
"I consider myself fortunate," said Heflin, who spent 13 months, six days "and a wake-up" in Vietnam as part of the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines -- or, in Marine Corps jargon, simply 2/4.
The battalion operated in I Corps, and Heflin was stationed in the area just south of the Demilitarized Zone that cut the country in half.
His company saw action.
Of the 63 Marines that were assigned to the company with Heflin, only 26 remained 13 months later. The rest had been killed or badly wounded.
Of the 26, only two Marines weren't wounded. Heflin was one of them.
During his tour of duty, Heflin's company was assigned search and destroy missions against the Viet Cong at first and later against the North Vietnamese Army.
During the summer of 1967, Heflin was a corporal leading an infantry squad. His unit had heard of NVA activity along a river bank. The NVA was preparing for the 1968 Tet Offensive.
Heflin was assigned to take his squad to find the enemy and set up an ambush. They came upon an NVA base camp and charged it.
They killed five and captured two, including the paymaster, and gathered up documents and a lot of money.
"That regiment didn't get paid that month," Heflin recalled. "And we didn't lose a Marine."
Up for medal
After that action, Heflin recalled, his platoon leader told Heflin he was putting him in for the Silver Star for valor.
Heflin didn't pay much attention to awards and decorations because he was looking to be discharged. After returning from Vietnam, he was presented the Navy Commendation Medal for valor while at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
But the medal had been borrowed for the ceremony and Heflin had to give it back.
Heflin didn't think much of the medal as he was going on with his life.
"I didn't care. I was satisfied with how I did with my fellow Marines," he said.
It wasn't until 2001 when he attended a 2/4 reunion and others told him about the medals he might have earned but never received.
After receiving copies of his service records, he found that he was indeed entitled to them.
Heflin comes from a military family. His father was an Air Force recruiter stationed in Warren. His mother wanted to settle down and remained in Warren while his father went to other assignments.
After graduating in 1964 from Warren G. Harding High School, Heflin went to work in the 56-inch hot mill at the Republic Steel Corp. which became WCI Steel Inc.
"I always felt patriotic. I wanted to do something for my country," Heflin recalled. "If I was going to be in combat, I wanted the best training I could possibly get," Heflin said.
He joined the Marines in November 1965.
In all, Heflin had participated in 11 operations against the enemy, something he didn't know until he received his military records.
Because of his unit's assignment, Heflin was involved in a number of firefights -- some lasting only a new minutes.
"You would hardly know" there was a firefight because they were so short, he said.
Others called for engaging the enemy for a half a day.
Heflin said he was scared when a firefight broke out. Afterward, there was an adrenaline rush.
"You felt it was the best thing that could be accomplished in your life," he explained.
After the war, Heflin returned to WCI. He can still be found at the 56-inch hot mill, but now he's the superintendent.
He and his wife, Barbara, have three children. They married 14 years ago after dating for 14 years.
Veterans who want a copy of their military records can order them online through the National Archives and Records Administration, www.archives.gov.