Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System
Vietnam Veteran Awarded Purple Heart 46 Years Later
In December 1966, Navy Veteran Paul Phillips was serving in Vietnam with his fellow Navy Seabees when a bombed ripped through a USO building they were remodeling at a U.S. base.
Phillips suffered burns on nearly a third of his body and spent a year and a half recovering in a naval hospital.
Despite his injuries, Phillips was never awarded the Purple Heart from the U.S. Navy.
Around six months ago, Phillips contacted VA staff at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center (JCMVAMC) to learn how he could apply to receive the medal. VA staff encouraged him to contact Congressman Markwayne Mullin’s office so a Congressional request could be submitted to the Department of Navy on his behalf.
On April 19, Rep. Mullin presented Phillips with the Purple Heart during a special ceremony at Go Ye Village in Tahlequah, which was attended by several hundred people.
“I thought it was awesome,” said Phillips, who served four tours of duty in Vietnam. “I was hoping they would just send it to me in the mail. I didn’t want to do all of this.”
During the ceremony, Mullin said he was humbled to present the medal to Phillips.
“It’s an absolute privilege today to recognize a gentleman that has probably waited long enough without being recognized for his service that he provided this great nation,” said Mullin.
Mullin said presenting the medal was a greater honor to him than speaking on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“When I signed up for the job, I never thought this would be part of it,” said Mullin. “I can tell you I’ve probably given a couple hundred interviews and speeches and I’ve yet to be this nervous. I’m not even worthy to present this medal. But I have been asked to do so and so I will do my best.”
Phillips, who served 20 years in the Navy and retired as a Chief Petty Officer, will also receive an American flag that was flown in his honor on April 19 over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Phillips said he was humbled by such an honor and said he only asked for the medal because of a request from his wife.
“I did it for my grandson,” said Phillips, who lives in Tahlequah. “My wife has been wanting me to make a shadow box for my grandson and I never had the Purple Heart presented to me. So she got me moving on it and the Congressman came through.”
Phillips, who receives his primary care from the JCMVAMC Blue Team, also added that he is very appreciative of the care he receives through VA.
“I like VA,” said Phillips. “When I got out in 1982, I went to the VA in 1985 after I retired and I didn’t go back for 15 years. But now, if I have anything wrong, I go to the VA. It’s really changed. If I need anything, the doctors help me enormously.”