Roger Kimble, a 1965 graduate of Centerville High School, is shown wearing his Purple Heart in Tent City near Phu Bai in South Vietnam in 1966. He was one month and eight days past his 19th birthday. (Courtesy photo via The Palladium-Item)
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Roger Kimble has waited 47 years for a medal for valor during the Vietnam War.
That wait will end July 13, 48 years to the day after the Centerville man enlisted to serve his county in the Marine Corps.
The award — a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with “V” device for valor — will be presented to Kimble during a ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park in Richmond.
It marks a three-year journey for Kimble and his former commanding officer in Vietnam to get the medal for the 66-year-old.
Kimble was part of a three-man machine gun crew operating around Phu Bai in northern South Vietnam on May 18, 1966. He was wounded when the truck he was riding in hit a booby trap.
Despite burns to both arms and shrapnel in his right knee, Kimble helped save the life of one Marine who was engulfed in flames and pulled three others away from the burning vehicle to safety.
He received a Purple Heart for his actions that day but never knew his commanding officer had put him in for a Bronze Star, an award given for valor in combat.
In fact, it wasn’t until he saw his CO — Capt. Humberto “Lefty” Gonzales — by chance at a 2009 battalion association reunion in San Diego that he found out Gonzales had recommended him for the medal.
“He immediately remembered me and our time together in Vietnam, and, as Marines always do, we started talking about operations, patrols and ambushes,” Kimble said.
“Finally, he asked me, ‘Did you get the award I recommended you for?’ and I said I only received a Purple Heart,” Kimble said. “He said he wanted to do something about it, but I said it wasn’t necessary. I figured it was water under the bridge.
“Several weeks later, I received a letter from Lefty and he said, ‘I’m going to correct that,’” Kimble said.
So Kimble and Gonzales began searching for Marines involved in the action. It took about one year to find three Marines and gather their statements.
Then it took another two years before Kimble finally received a call from a representative of the Secretary of the Navy telling him he was approved to receive not a Bronze Star, but the Navy and Marine Commendation Medal.
“It is a very big deal to me,” Kimble said. “To say that I am honored and proud to be receiving this award is an understatement. I feel very honored to be receiving anything at all after these 47 years.”
He said, “If it had not been for a twist of fate, meeting my old company commander and the statements given by those I served with, I wouldn’t be getting this award.”
Kimble has dedicated the award to the 58,272 Vietnam veterans whose names are etched in black granite on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“I think of the people I served with and all the 18- and 19-year-olds who never had a chance to have a life or have a family,” Kimble said. “They made the ultimate sacrifice for their service to their country.
“I will wear this medal in their honor and be forever grateful to those who made this award possible,” he said.