On the 45th anniversary of the action that earned them the military's third-highest award for valor, four Vietnam veterans gathered in Arkansas on Tuesday to receive the Silver Star, according to a release from an Arkansas congressman who helped get their medals approved.

Former Spc. Leonard Shearer, former Spc. John Deslauriers, former Capt. Robert Frank and former Chief Warrant Officer 2 Robert Monette flew a rescue mission in their UH-1H Huey into enemy territory on April 18, 1972, in response to a downed C-130 Hercules and managed to help save five survivors, according to their award citations.

Decades later, after a 2005 unit reunion, their former troop commander, retired Maj. Jack Shields, took up a campaign to put them in for awards, eventually landing at the office of his congressman, Rep. French Hill, R-Arkansas.

"Fourteen months ago, he reached out to Tom McNabb and David Carnahan in my office, and we were able to all work with the Department of Defense to get these four heroes their long overdue recognition for their actions," Hill wrote in a Tuesday post on Facebook, following a public ceremony in Little Rock. "We were honored to also be joined by three of the men who [were] rescued as part of that mission."

Forty-five years to the day earlier, the UH-1H Huey crew, assigned to F Troop, 9th Cavalry came upon the downed cargo plane during the Siege of An Loc.

It was a spontaneous rescue, according to the citations — the Huey crew had seen the plane go down without making a mayday call. Stars and Stripes published details of the crash, based on interviews with the Air Force C-130 crew, days later.

Monette was the pilot, Frank was the air mission commander, and Shearer and DesLouriers were the gunners. Shearer carried the most seriously injured of three survivors who were on the ground while DesLouriers provided covering fire.

When they learned that there were more crew members inside the burning plane, they maneuvered the helicopter closer and were able to save two more airmen.

Following the Silver Star presentation, the former soldiers thanked Hill and his staff for their help, spokesman Mike Siegel told Army Times.

"Bob Frank, on behalf of the four Silver Star recipients, presented Rep. Hill, David Carnahan and Tom McNabb each with a framed gift that contained a picture of the four men, a replica Silver Star, and a picture of the crash site to thank them for their help."

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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