Vietnam vet Seabee receives 4 long-overdue medals
By CAROLYN JONES | San Francisco Chronicle | Published: June 6, 2014
The Vietnam War ended decades ago, but closure for a Vallejo, California, veteran didn't come until Thursday.
Fifty years after his tour in Vietnam, Warlito Moises, 70, received four medals that, because of a long-overlooked bureaucratic issue, he never got while in the military.
"The medals never mattered to me, but it's good to finally be recognized," said Moises, a retired police officer. "It's long overdue. It feels good."
Rep. Mike Thompson pinned the medals on Moises' suit in a brief ceremony aboard the LCS 102, a World War II-era "Mighty Midget" ship docked at Mare Island in Vallejo. Moises received the National Defense Service Ribbon, the Vietnam Service Medal with one Bronze Star, a Navy Unit Commendation and a Combat Action Ribbon for his time in the jungle dodging the Viet Cong.
Moises wanted to join the Navy almost from birth. He grew up in Vallejo when it was still a bustling Navy town, and graduated from Vallejo High School. He was inspired to enlist in part by his father, a former member of the Philippine Scouts who survived the Bataan Death March in World War II.
But when he went to enlist, the Navy wasn't quite as enthusiastic.
"They told me I could be a steward or a cook. That's what all black and Filipino guys were told," he said. "I said, 'None of the above. I want to be a Seabee. If you say no, fine, I'll go to the Army or Marines.' They finally said OK."
So Moises joined the Navy's Construction Battalion, whose members are known as "Seabees," for C.B.
He was stationed in Chi Lai, Vietnam, from February to October 1965, building airstrips with his battalion. They slept in foxholes and endured nightly attacks from the Viet Cong, he said.
He has had health problems ever since because of Agent Orange exposure and still suffers nightmares from his time there, he said.
"Just dreams that the Viet Cong are jumping out at you, and you grab your gun and it's not there," he said. "Or when I hear a muffler backfire. ... It can be hard sometimes."
When he returned to the U.S., the Vietnam War was so unpopular he was in no hurry to collect his medals, he said. He went to work as a Naval police officer on Mare Island, a job he held for 28 years, and served 24 years in the Navy reserves.
He and his wife of 47 years, Elicita, a retired nurse, have lived in Vallejo most of their lives. They have two daughters, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Now retired, Moises volunteers on numerous veterans endeavors, including the American Legion, and a year or so ago decided to track down his lost medals.
Thompson, himself a Vietnam veteran, said he receives one or two such requests a year, and always tries to assist.
"It's very important that when someone serves our country, in combat, and they haven't received their medals, that we follow through," he said Thursday. "It allows them to close a chapter in their life, and they certainly deserve that."
It wasn't uncommon, in the chaos of wartime, for medals to get lost or never issued, he said.
The medals may have signified the end of one chapter for Moises, but he's not done with his military work. He plans to keep crusading for veterans of all ages, he said.
"I am very happy today," he said, "but the work continues."