Vietnam veteran gets honors he never knew he was awarded
The (Traverse City, Mich.) Record-Eagle
TORCH LAKE VILLAGE, Mich. -- Clarence "Sonny" Szejbach performed heroically on June 6, 1969.
Today, he will be recognized for his feat, more than four decades since receiving serious battle wounds while serving in Tay Ninh Province, Vietnam.
Szejbach will be presented with the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second-highest award for military valor.
"I thought I was just doing what was expected of me in the heat of the battle," said Szejbach, 63, who lost his right hand and sustained severe neck and facial injuries during an enemy attack.
Accounts of the incident show Szejbach unselfishly responded when a wounded enemy soldier threw an anti-tank grenade at his company commander.
He "unhesitatingly moved in front of the officer, deflected the armed weapons, and then picked it up and threw it. The grenade exploded as it left his hand, inflicting severe wounds on him," said his company commander in his recommendation for Szejbach's citation.
"Specialist Four Szejbach's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army," the recount continued.
Szejbach spent 45 days in a hospital in Japan before he returned stateside. The prospect of receiving a medal never entered his mind.
"When I finally got home and was discharged, I was happy just getting out. At 21 years old I wasn't paying that much attention to my discharge papers to see if any awards were listed," he said.
The Elk Rapids native returned home and never gave a thought to accolades. Szejbach married his wife Christine in 1970; they raised three daughters, have six grandchildren and run Sonny's Torch Lake Market.
Szejback recently visited Antrim County Veterans Office counselor Deborah Peters, and she realized Szejbach had not received recognition for his heroism.
"I saw there was not a Purple Heart listed on his documents," said Peters, who requested an Army review of Szejbach's service record.
Peters subsequently received a correction notification that stated Szejbach wasn't only eligible for the Purple Heart, but he also was in line to receive the Distinguished Service Cross and eight other citations.
"I was shocked when I realized what he was entitled to," Peters said.
Szejbach voiced more than surprise when he learned of the impending — if long overdue — honors.
"At first I questioned whether it was a mistake, but I will take them at their word," he said.
The public is invited to attend the military award presentation today at 4 p.m. at AmVets Post 114, 410 Bridge Street in Elk Rapids. An open house and dinner will follow from 5 to 8 p.m. Donations will benefit Goodwill Industry's Patriot Place, a Gaylord-based emergency shelter for northern Michigan veterans. a
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