GALLIPOLIS – Joe Roberts thought he was going to the Gallia County Courthouse on Tuesday morning take care of some legal business.
What he received while at the courthouse were numerous medals and decorations for his service in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
Roberts, of Gallia County, was presented with 14 military service medals by Ohio Congressman Bill Johnson in a surprise ceremony in the county auditor’s office. While he began producing paperwork to take care of his business, Johnson walked up to Roberts and began to congratulate him for his medals and military service.
“I thought I was in trouble,” Roberts said upon seeing Johnson. “I’m my dad’s legal guardian. I was told I needed to come down here to take care of some paperwork for him. I did not have a clue – not a clue — that this was going to happen. I have a big family, so someone should’ve leaked it. I can’t believe it. These people can keep secrets.”
Roberts served from May 1964 to July 1974 with the Assault Helicopter Company. He flew Hueys and Cobra gunships during Vietnam, where he served two tours. He also said he was wounded four times during his two tours.
Roberts earned the following medals during his 10-year military career: Distinguished Flying Cross with two bronze oak leaf clusters; Bronze star with a bronze oak leaf cluster; Purple Heart with two bronze oak leaf clusters; Air Medal; Army Commendation Medal with bronze oak leaf cluster; Good Conduct Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Vietnam Service Medal; Silver Star; Combat Infantry Badge; Republic of Vietnam Campaign Ribbon; Sharpshooter Badge with a rifle bar; Marksman Badge with a rifle bar; and the Army Aviator Basic Badge.
“I’ve met a lot of veterans and presented a lot of medals,” Johnson said. “I can’t think of one who had a longer list or who has done as much as you did, Joe.”
“That’s hard to imagine because it was just a job for me,” Roberts said. “I spent the Vietnam War in the Army. When it was over, I saw no sense in staying.”
Johnson said one of the most enjoyable aspects of being a congressman is being able to present long-overdue medals to military veterans.
“One of the most special things that I get to do is to set the record straight and make things right, especially where our veterans are concerned,” he said. “We are so humbled and pleased to honor you for your years of service.”
Johnson said his office was contacted by Gallia County resident Judy Jones for assistance in acquiring the medals for Roberts. Though the medals were earned over a distinguished period of military service, Roberts never received them.
Roberts said he fought for many years to get the medals, but gave up after numerous unsuccessful attempts.
“My mind is boggled right now, but I’m happy,” he said. “I mean, I had given up on what I felt I had earned a long time ago. It wasn’t about the medals; it was about doing the job that needed to be done.”