TAMPA, Fla. - For nearly four decades, a local Vietnam veteran has remained quiet, never receiving recognition for an act of bravery that saved the lives of his fellow soldiers.
The day was June 4, 1971, but 62-year-old Ralph Morgan of Parrish remembers it like yesterday.
The retired Army sergeant says the memories are still painful, but that the prestigious award he finally received Tuesday morning, is helping him to heal.
"It's been difficult my whole life to talk about those events," he said.
And remembering his homecoming from the war is even harder. "I was one of those guys that was spit on," said Morgan, "Port Authority building of New York, and I remember feeling ashamed."
But now those memories are coming a little easier, as the prestigious Silver Star medal hangs on his chest, finally placed there forty-two years after he earned it.
"Talking about it now and going through this now, is a way to kind of clear my conscience and maybe get some ghosts out of the closet that have been haunting me for a long time," said Morgan.
It was a day he'll never forget. Deep in the Vietnam jungles, armed only with an M-16 rifle and surrounded by the enemy, Morgan positioned himself to draw fire away from his fellow soldiers, giving his platoon enough time to escape and get to waiting helicopters.
"Here is someone who deserved the third-highest honor for gallantry and he was so humble, that forty-two years later, because the paper work never got processed, he's finally getting the honor he deserved four decades ago," said U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, who was on hand to present the Award to Morgan at the USO Office at Tampa International Airport.
Like so many others, Morgan wasn't looking for a medal, or a plaque or his name in the paper. Now after so many years, he's getting the recognition he earned--something he says too many others earned as well by paying a price much higher than his.
"I wish I had the strength to mention their names, but there were so many good young men, and women, who lost their lives over there and didn't receive an award," said Morgan, "and if I could I would like to share this with their families because they deserve it too."