Decorated Huntsville veteran awarded Silver Star 45 years after Vietnam heroics

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REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (WHNT) - In the summer of 1969, man first stepped on the moon.  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was a hit in theaters. The Beatles were number one on the radio. On television, America had just introduced a man named Brady, busy with three boys of his own. And on a farm in New York, 400,000 flower children gathered for what was billed as three days of peace, love and music.

That same year on the other side of the world in the sweltering heat and rice paddies of Southeast Asia, a young man from Winfield, Alabama was risking life and limb, crossing hostile terrain to protect and rescue his platoon.

Friday, amid family, friends and Redstone Arsenal top brass, First Lieutenant Retired Phillip B. Fikes, an already decorated Vietnam War veteran, humbly received the third highest military decoration for valor due to him 45 years ago.

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First Lieutenant (Ret.) Phillip Fikes with his family, prior to the ceremony. (Photo: David Wood/WHNT News 19)

"Deeply honored," admits Fikes. "It was quite a shock that I had actually been awarded the Silver Star. Going 45 years without knowing, you know, you can imagine when I found out about it that was quite something else."

Fikes came home from Vietnam's Mekong Delta with 115 metal stitches, three Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars and a few less digits on his left hand.  However, he will tell you he doesn't consider himself a hero.

"Quite a few people have been in the same situations, I'm sure, that I have. But that's one of the things that meant a lot to me is saving lives. Saving the lives of my men."

After his induction into the Madison County Military Heritage Commission's Hall of Heroes last year, Lieutenant Fikes requested his personnel files from the Department of Defense. Inside that very package is where he found his Silver Star.

"That's when I found out about it and that's where I messed up --  I should have kept my mouth shut," Fikes jokes.

Fikes crossed 100 meters of fire-swept terrain to evacuate wounded soldiers and then lead an assault on enemy positions. Just days later he was injured from a booby trap that took part of a thumb, busted his knee and caused permanent partial paralysis. The Silver Star commendation must have been unceremoniously slipped into his records during his hospital convalescence.

"Thank you, I think," he laughed in front of a crowd of hundreds at the Bob Jones Auditorium on Redstone Arsenal.

Humble as ever, nearly half a century later, he gets his due.

"And wSilver_Star_medal_closeuphile the Silver Star was presented to me, I can only accept it on behalf of the soldiers who I had the honor and privilege of serving with in Vietnam.  So for them and for me I say thank you, and God bless America."

For many in the crowd the pomp and circumstance was penetrating and vastly emotional -- even for brave, decorated men like Lieutenant Fikes as he held back tears, refusing his wife's offer of a tissue -- honored for courage, for sacrifice, for gallantry in action.

Lieutenant Fikes' wife of 46 years, Frances, was also awarded an Army Outstanding Civilian Service award by Commanding General Dennis Via.