Vietnam vet receives medal

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Army veteran Roy P. Yingling stood perfectly still as his grandson, Zach Ralston, pinned the Purple Heart medal to his chest – a medal 43 years overdue.

Yingling was heavily wounded by shrapnel while fighting as an Army Specialist Four in Vietnam on July 29, 1969. Despite suffering head trauma, shrapnel wounds to his heart and chest, broken bones and numerous scars, Yingling was never officially thanked for his service.

Thanks to his grandson, Yingling was finally honored during a special ceremony Saturday at the Hollidaysburg Veterans Home, where he was awarded the Purple Heart.

“Extremely overwhelmed,” Yingling, 64, said after the service had concluded. “I never thought it would happen.”

Friends and family gathered around Yingling to admire the Purple Heart and shake his hand, thanking him for his service.

Yingling said he owed everything to his grandson, Zach Ralston, who worked tirelessly to acquire the medal on his behalf.

“I really couldn’t be happier,” Ralston said. “It’s a long time coming.”

Ralston said he grew up listening to his grandfather’s stories of Vietnam.

But his grandfather had nothing to show for his service even though he was heavily wounded in combat, Ralston said.

After writing to President Barack Obama in April and then to the Pentagon, Ralston finally heard back from government officials about acquiring a Purple Heart for his grandfather.

“The wait was the worst,” Ralston said.

U.S. Navy Captain Dennis Smith presented Yingling with the Purple Heart, which Ralston then pinned to his grandfather’s chest.

Yingling stood proudly and at attention during his ceremony as dozens of Hollidaysburg Veterans Home residents and about 100 visitors looked on.

Many veterans are honored posthumously, Smith said. But for Yingling, the decades-long wait without receiving a Purple Heart was too long, Smith said.

“Which, by the way, is 43 years too late,” Smith said. “Which should not happen, but it does.”

Larry and Cheryl Ruppe said they were happy to see Yingling receive recognition for his service.

The Ruppes sit behind Yingling during worship services at Second Avenue United Methodist Church. About 10 church members were in attendance during the ceremony, Cheryl Ruppe said.

“Long awaited,” she said.

Vietnam veterans, Yingling included, were not treated with the respect they deserved upon their return home, Cheryl Ruppe said.

State Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair, and Rep. John McGinnis, R-Altoona, spoke during the ceremony.

Eichelberger said he was honored to meet Yingling and spoke of the importance of recognizing veterans’ accomplishments.

“We didn’t forget,” Eichelberger said.

McGinnis told the crowd he grew up during the Vietnam era and saw the complexities of the war.

Vietnam veterans answered the call, but did not receive the proper recognition or thanks upon their return, McGinnis said.

“You’re twice my hero,” McGinnis told Yingling, to loud applause.

Mirror Staff Writer Zach Geiger is at 946-7535.