Marine sues Navy to get Purple heart
A riflemanwas denied themedal due to friendly fire.
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.