Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Soldier gets Bronze Star 46 years after service

TAMPA — Robert French was overwhelmed Tuesday.

He knew he would finally be awarded a Bronze Star 46 years after he was shot while crawling through rice paddies as an Army specialist during the Vietnam War. But everything else — the police cars and formal procession to MacDill Air Force Base, the over-crowded presentation room with people spilling into the hallway — stunned the 67-year-old Tampa native who, until a few years ago, didn't even know he had been nominated for the medal.

French tried to take it all in.

Next to him on stage was Maj. Gen. Karl Horst, the CentCom chief of staff. His two daughters and 12-year-old granddaughter were in the audience, as well as former colleagues and friends dating to his childhood.

Sitting quietly in the second row was Lan Cong-Tang. Cong-Tang, who was born in Vietnam, met French through work at the University of South Florida a couple of years ago. The friendship that resulted changed both of their lives, she said. After decades of relative silence, French began to open up and process some of what he went through.

His wife, Kaye, teared up when she saw Cong-Tang walk in.

"She's his reason for being able to turn around and put even a little of it behind him," she said.

After introductory remarks, including the national anthem and a speech from Horst, the moment arrived. The audience stood, camera shutters clicked and the room listened as the reader told of French's "exceptionally meritorious service" and "diligence and loyalty."

French looked at his wife affectionately as she pinned the Bronze Star on his chest, her hands shaking slightly as she cried.

She couldn't hold it together any longer. Sobbing momentarily, she collapsed against her husband's shoulder, hand on his chest as the sergeant received an honor more than four decades overdue.

"Kaye, someone has to shake his hand and someone has to kiss him," Horst said.

The audience laughed as she leaned forward and kissed her infantryman. But the presentation wasn't over.

French, who left the Army as a sergeant, and his wife stood in amazement as he was handed gift after gift as a thank-you for his service. A plaque in remembrance of the boys of '67, a statue of a soldier symbolizing his service, a flag, several military coins, a shadowbox filled with his ribbons and medals. Kaye joked they would have to get a bigger house.

"I had no idea things were going to happen like they did today, no earthly idea." French said. "I'm very happy they did, but I had no idea."

Caitlin Johnston can be reached at cjohnston@tampabay.com or 813-661-2427.

Soldier gets Bronze Star 46 years after service 03/05/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 4:31pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Navy expected to relieve admiral in charge of 7th Fleet in response to deadly disasters at sea

    Nation

    The Navy will relieve the senior admiral in charge of the service's 7th Fleet based in Japan in response to four embarrassing accidents this year, two of which killed sailors at sea, two U.S. officials said.

    Tugboats assist the guided-missile destroyer John S. McCain on its way to Changi Naval Base in Singapore on Monday. [U.S. Navy]
  2. Trump chides media over Charlottesville

    National

    President Donald Trump is blaming the media for the widespread condemnation of his response to a Charlottesville, Va., protest organized by white supremacists that led to the killing of a counter-protester.

    Trump met service members before the rally.
  3. Jones: Koetter-Winston exchange highlights latest 'Hard Knocks'

    Bucs

    There are certain things that make HBO's Hard Knocks must-see television.

    Jameis Winston, left, has an exchange with Dirk Koetter that highlights Hard Knocks.
  4. Rays are full of ideas they'd like to share when commissioner visits

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Commissioner Rob Manfred is coming to the Trop today. Hmm. Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg will be there to greet him. Hmmmm. And they have a scheduled joint media session. Hmmmmmmmmm.

    Commissioner Rob Manfred isn’t expected to say anything definitive about the Rays’ stadium situation when he visits the team today.
  5. Mayor Rick Kriseman endorsed by another police union

    Blogs

    ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman is already backed by the city's largest police union, the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman has secured another police union endorsement