On Friday morning, a local veteran of the Vietnam War was presented an award for his heroic action in a combat zone, 50 years after leaving Vietnam.
Mike Pollard, a farm boy from Northwest Missouri, was drafted into the Army when he was around 20 years old. The man served as a cook, among many other duties, for a year in the combat zone of Vietnam.
“I was drafted before the lottery, so it wasn’t a number thing; each county had their quota,” Pollard said. “In those days, if you were eligible for the draft, you pretty much got drafted.”
Near the end of his time in Vietnam, his company officer told him that he wanted to make sure Pollard was honored for his service in some way. A few months after arriving home and finishing up his paperwork, Pollard saw what the officer had in mind when orders saying he had received the Bronze Star, which had arrived in the mail.
“But I was not in service at that time, and I didn’t go on a military record because I already processed out,” Pollard said. “It was there, but it wasn’t.”
When Pollard was nearing retirement from his civilian job as a teacher, someone with the commission saw that he had never been properly awarded the Bronze Star. Jamie Melchert, spokesperson for the Missouri Veterans’ Commission, said that this is something they see often, especially with those who served in the Vietnam War.
“This veteran earned his award in 1971, and here’s 2019,” Melchert said “But you have to understand at that time, it was a combat zone; There was a lot of things going on. So, I’m sure the Army did not want to slight the soldier, but there were a lot of things going on, and for whatever reason, he was never presented an award. So, we’re trying to make it right with the veteran.”
On Friday afternoon, Pollard was presented with the Bronze Star by the Missouri Veterans’ Commission during a special ceremony held at the Missouri Veterans Home in Cameron, Missouri. The award, which is given to those who showed heroic service in a combat zone, was pinned to Pollard along with the Vietnam Veteran’s commemoration pins.
“Vietnam veterans were not recognized, as you can see, like today, as they should have been at that time,” Melchert said. “So, the Pentagon took it on as a federal program to start recognizing veterans. So whenever we have a ceremony for a Vietnam veteran, we also present them with a commemorative pin as well.”
While Pollard was happy to have been given the recognition from the military in the ceremony, he said that seeing the change in the public’s opinion of Vietnam veterans means just as much to him.
“I walked through the protesters in San Francisco to get a plane ticket to come home; you know, it’s discouraging,” Pollard said. “Fifty years later, it still means a lot to me to see the country’s attitude toward veterans be positive like it is today; it probably means just as much. I really appreciate that.”