Ron Esselstyn nearly died more than 50 years ago while serving in Vietnam, but never thought he rated a Purple Heart.After traveling in a helicopter to a rice paddy and being dropped off, Ron and the men around him were attacked by a Viet Cong sniper. The sniper forced Ron to take cover, and as he did so, he walked straight into the tail rotor of the helicopter that had delivered him.The helicopter hit his head with such forced that it knocked his fiberglass helmet into his skull and caused brain damage.Doctors feared that not only would Ron Esselstyn never walk again, but that he might not even speak.The Vietnam veteran surprised all of them by completing over 100 marathons and finishing school, eventually becoming a tax appraiser in Umatilla County, Oregon.
Veteran Said He Was Just an "Adviser," Didn't Think He Rated Purple Heart
Ron Esselstyn never received a purple heart because of a misunderstanding regarding vehicular accidents. According to Army regulation, a soldier cannot receive a Purple Heart for vehicular accidents that weren't caused by enemy action.Last year, however, an official at the Veterans Affairs office in Oregon began the process of looking through Esselstyn's military record and found that not only was he eligible for the Purple heart, he rated seven other medals, ribbons and badges.The 73-year old veteran finally got his medals at the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA center in Walla Walla, in front of a crowd of about 75.Ed Van Dyke, the official who helped Esselstyn finally get his medals, said he first heard of the Vietnam veteran's story after reading about it in an Oregon newspaper."As I read the article chronicling Ron's amazing story, I knew I had to do whatever I could do to ensure he received the honors and recognitions he deserved," said Van Dyke.He put in a request to the Secretary of the Army, which was then forwarded to the Army Awards and decorations branch and found that Esselstyn was eligible for medals that included the Vietnam Service Medal (with two stars), Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal and several others.