BEAUFORT -- The Marine Corps said it never received an award recommendation for Frank Ambrose for his heroic acts on a dirt road in Vietnam in 1968 -- an omission that resulted in a 40-year delay before the former lance corporal could be formally recognized for his conduct.
Ambrose received the Silver Star, the nation's third-highest combat decoration, during a morning ceremony last week at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
Despite claims by his battalion commander to the contrary, officials at Marine Corps headquarters said an award recommendation never was filed on Ambrose's behalf.
"While Col. Rockey stated that Mr. Ambrose had been recommended for the award of the Silver Star during the Vietnam conflict. . . . (we) conducted a thorough review of Mr. Ambrose's official military personnel files and did not find any record that such an award recommendation had ever been submitted on Mr. Ambrose," according to a statement from Marine Corps officials.
William K. Rockey was battalion commander when Ambrose, then Pfc. Ambrose, was assigned to Mike Company, 3rd battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division after graduating from specialty school at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Rockey said he recommended Ambrose for a medal for his actions in South Vietnam when a 15-man patrol of which he was part was ambushed by North Vietnamese forces during the Tet Offensive in 1968.
While in a hospital bed in Da Nang, Ambrose said he remembered being interviewed about what happened by a one-star general and gunnery sergeant, but nothing came of it.
"They came in and set an eight-track recorder at the foot of the bed and just started asking me questions," he said. "I had an IV in, and I was on all kinds of drugs for the pain, so I have no idea what I told them. To be honest, I didn't expect to be alive."
While in the hospital, Ambrose was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal. He left the Corps at that rank.
Ambrose was flown out of the jungle on the day of the ambush on a MEDEVAC helicopter after refusing to be evacuated on an earlier chopper. As his chopper lifted off, he continued to fire at the enemy until he was out of range.
According to his citation, Ambrose was seriously wounded in the left arm and chest and had pieces of shrapnel lodged behind his left eye after a rocket-propelled grenade went off in a ditch where he had sought cover.
With North Vietnamese forces launching surprise attacks throughout South Vietnam, Rockey said he wasn't surprised when a records check didn't turn up Ambrose's recommendation.
"In the heat of Tet '68, everyone was extremely busy," he said. "Somehow the paperwork got screwed up and about four years ago, at a reunion, the topic came up and we started reconstructing what happened."
Federal law requires an award recommendation to be submitted within three years of the meritorious action.
Otherwise, it must be submitted by an officer who had "knowledge of the action," and must include signed and notarized accounts from two eyewitnesses, written in their own words.
The recommendation also must be endorsed by all surviving members of the chain of the command.
Capt. James Mitchell, Ambrose's company commander, submitted the awards recommendation package in July 2006.
With the events of that day reconstructed, Rockey then needed the help of a member of Congress to take up Ambrose's cause and submit the package to HQMC. He contacted U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who represents Ambrose, an Orlando resident. Nelson's Washington office submitted the package to
begin the time-consuming
During the review, records and personnel files of the recommended Marine, recommending officer, all endorsing officers and eyewitnesses are examined to determine the validity of their claim.
Nelson later was called in again to clear a bureaucratic logjam that caused further
"I fought so hard because Frank deserved it," Rockey said. "He was a courageous, fighting Marine and he was certainly not going to be denied this honor because of some administrative holdup."
Ambrose said getting the medal never was something he fixated on.
"I'm not upset or angered at the Corps, because, to be honest, I never really cared," he said. "It was something that had totally dropped out of my mind. I'm incredibly honored and flattered, but it wouldn't have made a difference in my life if I didn't get it."