As Sgt. Gunter Harter recovered in a military hospital in Colorado in 1969, after an explosion in Vietnam severely damaged his right ear and killed a member of his squad, he was awarded a Purple Heart that was later lost to bureaucracy and time.
On Friday, the 47-year-old paperwork glitch was corrected and Harter was honored during a ceremony at the Albertson VFW hall.
“Receiving the Purple Heart is an honor, and more importantly, a tribute to the brave soldiers I fought alongside and served with,” said Harter, 73, who emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1961.
Harter said he became eligible for the Purple Heart in 1969, but never received his medal.
The Bellerose, Queens resident contacted U.S. Rep. Steve Israel’s office, and the Democratic congressman expedited a request to the U.S. Department of the Army to grant him the award.
On June 23, the army approved the request.
“Sergeant Harter, like so many of his fellow veterans, was not born in the United States but fought bravely in service for our country and never asked for, or expected anything in return,” said Israel, of Huntington, who hosted Friday’s ceremony.
“It is an honor to stand here today with Gunter and his family and present him 47 years later with his Purple Heart that symbolizes the selfless sacrifice he made for a country he barely knew,” Israel added.
When he first arrived to the United States, Harter said he was told he’d have to enter the draft to secure American citizenship.
He entered the military in 1967, the day after marrying his wife Helga, and sent to Fort Jackson in South Carolina for basic training.
Initially told he’d be a German interpreter, Harter was instead sent to Saigon with the 4th Battalion, 21st Infantry Division as its squad leader.
“It was something because once we got ambushed and out of 133, four came back,” Harter said. “I feel sorry for all the boys who were 18, 19 years old who lost their lives. It was very tough.”
Helga Harter said she is eternally grateful her husband came home alive, albeit injured.
“The war may have left scars on him but that does not matter,” she said.
He returned to complete his duty on Christmas Eve 1967, with his battalion commander serving as witness to Harter receiving citizenship.
“His first words were ‘I will fight no more, I’m done fighting’,” Helga said.