War medals in hand, the venerable veteran turned his back, and bowed his head. Lester Bailey’s long wait was over.
His eyes flushed red and blurred with tears, his voice choked to a whisper. The 66-year-old Lake County man was comforted with a hug from U.S. Congressman Bill Huizenga.
“It’s an honor, and a privilege, to be able to do this for you,” Huizenga said as he moved his hand to Bailey’s shoulder. “Thank you. We will not forget (what you did for us).”
About a dozen friends gathered Saturday in Baldwin’s VFW Peacock Post #5315 to watch the four-term Republican congressman of Michigan’s 2nd District officially re-issue the medals Bailey lost long ago – a Republic of Vietnam Campaign ribbon, Vietnam Service medal, National Defense medal, and the U.S. Army Commendation medal.
The latter medal, said Huizenga, “is awarded to any member of the Armed Forces of the United States other than general officers who … distinguished themselves by heroism, meritorious achievement or meritorious service.”
It was spring, 1969. Of a dozen Chinook helicopters delivering much-needed ammunition to a band of soldiers fighting desperately to hold a hill against an overwhelming and armored enemy, only five managed to deliver their supplies. Bailey’s was one of them.
“We lost 35 helicopter personnel that day,” said Bailey. “The guys on the ground we were trying to help, got chewed up, pretty bad. The guys on the ground were picking up that ammunition and firing it as fast as we could drop it by hook.
“My chopper got through, but when we got back we counted over 200 bullet holes from front to back – 200,” said Bailey, his voice softened by the memories of the ordeal. “Any one of those bullets could have brought us down, but somehow we got through.
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