Marine sues Navy to get Pur­ple heart

A ri­fle­man­was de­nied themedal due to friendly fire.

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Kirk Mitchell

For­mer Marine Paul A. Her­nan­dez was walk­ing point on a search and de­stroy mis­sion in 1969 near Da Nang, South Viet­nam, when he was se­ri­ously in­jured in an am­bush.

Al­though there is no doubt the shrap­nel that scarred the Den­ver Marine’s knee en­tered his body dur­ing a fierce fire­fight with the Viet Cong, theNavy re­fusedHer­nan­dez the Pur­ple Heart be­cause he couldn’t prove the in­jury wasn’t caused by “friendly fire.”

But a law­suit Her­nan­dez filed Thurs­day in U.S. Distric­tCourt says he de­serves the medal be­cause Congress en­acted a law that said sol­diers in­jured dur­ing friendly fire in­ci­dents also are en­ti­tled tobe awarded a Pur­ple­Heart.

His quest for a Pur­ple Heart be­gan in 2006 but has been stalled re­peat­edly, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit filed by Broom­field at­tor­neys Richard Borchers and Hi­lary Hol­land.

Af­ter get­ting re­ferred back and forth from one Navy of­fice to an­other over the course of a decade, Her­nan­dez’s at­tor­ney re­ceived a fi­nal let­ter on Dec. 7.

“We have re­peat­edly re­quested his ser­vice record and have been un­suc­cess­ful in ob­tain­ing the re­quested doc­u­ments. As a re­sult, we are un­able to process his case due to lack of in­for­ma­tion and will be ad­min­is­tra­tively clos­ing his case,” the let­ter said.

The civil law­suit asks a fed­eral judge to in­ter­vene by order­ing the Navy to ful­fill his re­quest for a Pur­ple Heart. He is also ask­ing for at­tor­ney’s fees.

“De­fen­dants have failed to fol­low the reg­u­la­tions that have been pro­mul­gated by the Depart­ment of the Navy,” the law­suit says.

Fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of his fa­ther­who had been aMarine, Her­nan­dez joined the MarineCorp­son Nov. 15, 1968, and was trained at Trea­sure Is­land at San Fran­cisco. The ri­fle­man was as­signed to the First Bat­tal­ion 26th Marines 9thMAB, DeltaCom­pany out­side of DaNang.

On Oct. 14, 1969, he was lead­ing a pa­trol on a “search and de­stroy” mis­sion­when an­other Marine in the unit saw­move­ment in the tall grass and im­me­di­ately fired anM-79 grenade launcher.

A de­clas­si­fied doc­u­ment at­tached to the law­suit says that 26 Marines were am­bushed by six “VC,” or Viet Cong sol­diers, in which one of the en­emy sol­diers was killed and a se­cond was in­jured. Four VC were seen run­ning away froma “hooch.”

Her­nan­dez was in­jured in the legs with shrap­nel, taken to var­i­ous hospi­tals in South Viet­nam, Ja­pan and the United States.

His mil­i­tary records de­scribe his in­jury. Dur­ing his ser­vice, Her­nan­dez was awarded two Bronze Stars, among other awards.

His 2006 re­quest for a Pur­ple Heart was de­nied in April 2007 on the ba­sis that “records in­di­cate that you sus­tained non­hos­tile in­juries while serv­ing in the Re­pub­lic of Viet­nam.”

He hired an at­tor­ney in 2012 and ob­tained af­fi­davits from unit mem­bers Joseph Fisher and Alan Knight about the fire­fight.

Af­ter con­va­lesc­ing from the wound, Her­nan­dez was re­leased from ac­tive mil­i­tary duty on Nov. 13, 1970.

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