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Elgin man receives Silver Star after 46 years

Posted: June 18, 2013 4:00 p.m.
Updated: June 19, 2013 5:00 a.m.

One December morning in 1967 during the Vietnam war, an armored personnel carrier with three American soldiers was attacked with rocket propelled grenades. A then 19-year-old Joseph Tate, who was serving as a medic in the infantry unit, pulled the men out. He didn’t think twice about it.

“I was just doing what I was supposed to do … you don’t think, you just do,” the Elgin resident said.

Tate did not know if any of the men he rescued had survived the attack, and he wouldn’t know for nearly 40 years.

Tate also did not know that his Captain, “Captain T” as they called him, had put in for him to receive the Silver Star Medal. He wouldn’t know about that for another 40 years as well.

In the meantime, Tate would go on to complete his year of service in Vietnam and continue his military career. After Vietnam, Tate transferred to an army hospital at Valley Forge, Pa.

“And if I hadn’t gone there, I wouldn’t have met her,” Tate said referring to and smiling at his wife who was serving as a medic at that same hospital.

The couple married a year after meeting and children soon followed.

“We went to Japan and had our oldest daughter there. Then we went to Ethiopia and had our second daughter there, then I ended up in Texas and our son was born down there,” Tate said.

He and his wife retired from the military after twenty years of service to their country. Tate retired as a sergeant first class.

Three children and five grandchildren later, the Tates call Elgin home where a crisp American flag is displayed in the front yard. Over the years, the couple has stayed in contact with Vietnam veterans across the country, as far away as Washington State.

Each year, Tate and his wife attend reunions for his Vietnam War unit: the First Battalion 5th Mechanized Infantry.

“They are open to anyone who served during that time period (1965 to 1973). It could be somebody that I wasn’t stationed with but it doesn’t matter. If you were together for only five minutes, you’re brothers,” Tate said.

He said that five or six years ago at a reunion, Captain T, now a colonel, asked him if he had received the Silver Star Medal for his rescue that December morning.

“He said, ‘Did you get your Silver Star?’ and I said ‘No sir.’ I didn’t know I was ever put in -- so he resubmitted the paper work,” Tate said.

At the time, Tate was unsure if the colonel should bother to submit for something that had taken place more than four decades ago. Still, the colonel was persistent that he would resubmit the nomination.

“He was adamant that I should get this,” Tate said.

At another reunion, Tate would meet a man who had been searching for the medic who saved his life.

“We were up in Boston at a reunion and one of my friends said, ‘There’s a guy over here who wants to speak to you.’ He was the guy who had gotten blown off of the top of the carrier and for 40 years he was looking for the guy who served as the medic for him and took care of him.” Tate said.

Their meeting was an emotional one.

“He thanked me and we just kind of cried a little bit and hugged…. I didn’t know if anybody had survived so it was a shock to me that he showed up,” Tate said.

On May 4, U.S. Congressman Joe Wilson presented Tate with the Silver Star, 46 years after that December morning. The Silver Star Medal is the third-highest military decoration in the United States Armed Forces. Elgin Mayor Brad Hanley presented Tate with the Mayor’s Patriotism award on behalf of the town of Elgin in recognition of his being awarded the Silver Star Medal. Tate was touched by each of the presentations.

These days, Tate makes it a habit to meet up with other retired Army veterans.

“I have coffee ever morning with retired guys living all over Elgin. We meet up, sit there and tell war stories, we drink coffee for hours…. Elgin is full of retired military,” Tate said.

Tate noted that Kershaw County has a large number of retired military living in it.

“Kershaw County is very patriotic,” Tate said.

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