KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — War is a kind of abstract idea to most people, but Robert Brown knows it’s the real thing.
Robert Brown is receiving a Bronze Star for his heroics 50 years ago.
He remembers that day in November of 1966. Brown was a combat medic in Vietnam.
“We were up around the Cambodian border in Central Highland,” says the now 70-year-old Kentwood resident. “The earth seemed like it was bleeding. Seventeen of my friends got killed out there.”
Despite mortar shells falling around him, Brown worked to save his fellow soldiers.
The piece of shrapnel in the right-side of his face and the nerve damage in his arm are physical reminders of that day.
“The only thing that kept me from getting a second chest wound was my bible.” Brown says, showing the bible he kept in the chest pocket of his shirt. The only things Brown carried into battle were that bible and a walking stick.
He went to Vietnam as a Conscientious Objector. He didn’t believe in killing another human, but did believe in serving his country and fellow man.
“Doesn’t matter what was going on, what was coming in, I was gonna go get my men and patch then up,” says Brown. “I’d move around. I’d patch up. I move around patch up the next one as they called me.”
Even as Brown bled from his own injuries, his spirituality helped him through.
“I thought it was all over. I said well Lord, Am I all right? And he let me know I was alright,” said Brown. “Then I said Lord, I don’t have to die here. Get me outta here!”
While laid up in the hospital, recovering from his wounds, he received the Purple Heart for his actions.
Brown returned to Grand Rapids, earned a college degree and worked at Steelcase for 28 years.
He raised four children, two with his first wife, who died, and two with Francine, his wife of 38 years.
He became Bishop of Grace Apostolic Church, but there was never any mention of medals beyond the Purple Heart. He never turned in the paper work.
“That’s right, I didn’t turn it in, because I said I was just doing my job,” said Brown.
All that changed when veterans learned of his heroism and began a writing campaign. Some of those letters are from the men Brown saved.
The unit lost 17 members that day, but 35 survived. Many owe their lives to Robert Brown.
Saturday evening, Senator Carl Levin will pin The Bronze Star to his chest.
“It will bring completion to the whole story of Vietnam and what I went though.” says Brown.
Look below at the letters to get Brown his Bronze Star: