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After 29-year oversight, hero may get his medal

Former Navy corpsman Robert "Doc" Ingram was trying to fix the steering in his 1941 Dodge hot rod on a sultry day off in Jacksonville when got a call. It was a war buddy wishing him a happy Fourth of July.

Ben Goodwyn, a Marine company commander in Vietnam, also wanted to bring Ingram up to date on his renewed efforts to get him the Medal of Honor. Goodwyn's first recommendation, made 29 years ago, fell through a bureaucratic crack and left Ingram a forgotten hero.

"I was shocked and surprised to find out a few months ago that he was never recognized for what he did," Goodwyn said in a telephone interview from his home in Red Oak, Texas.

He said Ingram was shot four times _ including one bullet that went through his head, shattering his jaw and almost ripping his nose off _ but kept trying to help wounded Marines in a unit that was being cut up by the North Vietnamese army on March 28, 1966, at Chu Lai.

Goodwyn said he and about a dozen other Marines who were there gathered for their first reunion on Memorial Day in Gulf Shores, Ala.

"After almost 30 years . . . one of the first questions I asked of our corpsman was, "What medal did you receive for Operation Indiana?' To our consternation, we found that he had never received any recognition."

Goodwyn, a captain then, and Jim Fulkerson of Jonesboro, Ark., a lieutenant at the time, are taking statements from other Marines so Goodwyn can send another recommendation to the Marine Corps for what Ingram did that bloody day.

Goodwyn said his company unexpectedly ran into about 350 to 400 North Vietnamese army regulars who opened up with AK-47 automatic rifles.

"I remember one Marine saying so many leaves were being knocked off trees by small arms fire that it reminded him of autumn," Goodwyn said.

"Wounded Marines were screaming for corpsmen. We had 11 dead and 44 wounded out of 114. Ingram was hit in the hand. He kept working. Then he caught one in the knee. He still kept working.

"Then a North Vietnamese came out of a spider hole and shot him through the head. He turned and got off two rounds and killed the North Vietnamese.

"Here he was, shot through the hand, a crippling wound in the knee and shot through the head," yet when another wounded Marine called out, Ingram went to help, Goodwyn said.

Then Ingram was hit a fourth time, a bullet going through his scrotum and into his buttocks. It was impossible to evacuate until nightfall, and by the time Ingram reached a field hospital he was near death.

"They didn't think I was going to recover," Ingram said Tuesday in a telephone interview from his home. "I had a lot of damage to the brain."

Ingram had won a Silver Star for his actions in an ambush about a month before the larger clash in Operation Indiana, and Fulkerson and Goodwyn believe higher-ups may have confused the two medal recommendations.

Ingram, who went into the Marines at 18 after graduating from Clearwater High School, is now a nurse-administrator for a clinic of five family doctors in Jacksonville.

Asked what he thought about America as he celebrated the Fourth, Ingram chose his words carefully.

"I think we've lost a great deal of our belief in our country. One of the pleasing things I've seen is Congress working on this bill to make it like treason to burn the flag or urinate on it," he said of a constitutional amendment approved by the House and now in the Senate.