ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE — Arthur Greene thought he was going to a family reunion Saturday, but instead he found himself getting an honor he earned 45 years ago.
Greene was awarded the Purple Heart for injuries he suffered while serving as a Marine in Vietnam. The medal was presented by five Marines from the helicopter detachment at Robins.
About 70 members of Greene’s family had gathered in the Heritage Club at the base. He entered thinking he was about to sit down for a nice catered meal at the reunion, but he was called up to the front by the Marines.
Greene had no idea he was getting the Purple Heart until one of the Marines started reading the citation, prompting Greene to drop his head and fight back tears.
Warrant Officer Joshua Rodriguez then pinned it on him.
“There’s no place I’d rather be after the Fourth of July than here, taking part in this,” Rodriguez said.
Greene was awarded the medal for injuries received in a firefight in the A Shau Valley on Feb. 18, 1969. Greene’s unit was ambushed, and Greene immediately started using his M-60 machine gun. He was struck in his right temple by a bullet that left a gash like someone had cut him with a razor. He tried to keep shooting, but a fellow soldier saw his injury, pulled him off and took over the firing.
He found a large hole in his flak jacket, but whatever struck him didn’t penetrate to his skin.
Greene was taken out on a helicopter, along with three fellow soldiers who were killed.
“People that I was talking with, laughing with, a few minutes ago, and they are gone,” he said. “When I rode back on that chopper, riding there with tears in my eyes, seeing these three guys that were killed ... and I’m crying like a baby because I realize, I’m supposed to be down there. And I thank God today, how close I came to dying, and sparing my life.”
Although he was quickly awarded the Purple Heart, for various reasons he never actually received it.
“I wanted the Purple Heart, because it’s an honor to have fought for this country,” he said.
His brother Joseph Greene works at Robins, and is the person who worked behind the scenes to get it for him.
Arthur Greene grew up in Americus, and was in high school when a Marine recruiter came. He and seven of his friends went to see him, he said, because they thought it would be an opportunity to get out of going to class for a while. The recruiter must have been pretty good, because at the height of the war, six of them decided to join. One was killed in Vietnam.
The rest remain close friends to this day, said Arthur Greene, a pastor in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Although he grew up near Andersonville Historic Site, the Civil War prison where 13,000 Union soldiers died, Greene said he didn’t appreciate it until later. He happened to have been visiting Andersonville on Saturday morning before he came to the ceremony.
“It’s a shame if you are right from this area and you don’t go out there and walk up and down that area and learn and appreciate the sacrifices those people have given,” he said.