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 [email protected] 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. Georgia man drowned at SeaWorld Aquatica water park

    Public Safety

    ORLANDO — The water was only about 3 feet deep where Michael Stone, wearing a life vest, drowned in a water park ride at Aquatica this summer after apparently passing out face down, Orange County Sheriff's Office reports show.

  2. Bicyclist killed in hit-and-run crash on I-4 exit ramp in Tampa

    Accidents

    TAMPA — The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating after a bicyclist was killed in a hit-and-run crash on an Interstate 4 exit ramp early Wednesday.

  3. Cookbook review: ‘Cherry Bombe: The Cookbook' is like a friend who always has a good recipe up her sleeve

    Cooking

    Cherry Bombe is a biannual indie magazine, weekly radio show/podcast and annual conference that celebrates women and food. And this month's release is a cookbook, a compilation of tried-and-true recipes from women who are famous both in the food world and other industries. Think model and cookbook author …

    By Kerry Diamond 
and Claudia Wu Clarkson Potter, 256 pages, $35
  4. Beautiful Hong Kong is pulsating with life and culture

    Travel

    HONG KONG

    “Ah money, money, money!" the cabdriver exclaimed with no small sense of sarcasm in his Cantonese-accented English as he waved in the direction of the spectacular skyline of Hong Kong, a city that revels in its reputation as an international financial capital.

    The Hong Kong skyline, seen here from Victoria Peak, the highest point in the city at 1,800 feet, is a sight to behold.
  5. How to pick the perfect fall six-pack of beer

    Bars & Spirits

    With each fall comes another opportunity to assemble the perfect seasonal six-pack. Of course, this is often a six-pack in name only, as many of the latest seasonal brews come in large- format bottles (with a price tag to match). That just means that you'll need to assemble some friends and family to share with, and who …

     Abita Pecan Harvest Ale: As the name suggests, this toasty amber ale is brewed with roasted Louisiana pecans. The base beer is fairly neutral, allowing the sweet and nutty pecan character to stand front and center. It drinks not unlike a liquid pecan pie — though it’s a bit less sweet, thankfully.