HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -- After more than four decades, a veteran finally received an award for his service in the Vietnam War.
As the somber notes of "Taps" floated across the Huntsville Madison County Veterans Memorial in downtown Huntsville Saturday afternoon, veterans and their families stood at attention.
Each of those veterans has a story.
Airman First Class Richard Gonzalez has one he hasn't told in decades."It could have gone really bad," Gonzalez says.
He's talking about a day in April, 1972. "We got shot by a Russian missile. We got hit," Gonzalez says.
They made it safely back to an Air Force base with several of the eight engines damaged. Gonzalez says it was a miracle no one was hurt.
Eventually, he got out of the Air Force.
Gonzalez says when he got out, he didn't talk about his experiences in Vietnam.
He says it was easier that way.
"I went to college and they were calling Vietnam veterans 'baby killers' right there on the spot," Gonzalez says. "So at that point I decided to avoid any discussion or acknowledge any part of my time in Vietnam or the Air Force."
So the years went on and Gonzalez started a family.
He continued to keep those experiences quiet, until recently.
"Now that I'm retired, I wonder about my kids not knowing what happened," Gonzalez says.
And like his story, a recognition more than 40 years overdue is also coming to light.
Gonzalez should have been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for that day in April 1972. According to the Military Times Hall of Valor, the Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded to U.S. and Foreign military personnel and civilians who have displayed extraordinary heroism while engaged in action against an enemy of the United States.
The award didn't process in time before Gonzalez left the Air Force. At Saturday's ceremony though, he is finally getting it.
As he walked to the podium to accept his decades overdue recognition, his wife and family stood and watched which is something this veteran says makes him proud. "I'm very happy my family is here and everybody that has really thanked me for my time in Vietnam," Gonzalez says.
Other veterans were recognized through awards at the ceremony which was organized by Vietnam Veterans of America Huntsville Chapter 1067.
Each award is named for a veteran who gave his life for his country or impacted his community through the service of helping others.
This is the third year this ceremony has been celebrated.