A Vietnam War veteran from central New York finally has the combat medals he earned 45 years ago.
It was November 11, 1968 when Lauren Dates earned a dozen combat medals as an Army sergeant. He would have been fine if those awards, including a Purple Heart and bronze star, had showed up at his Cayuga County home in the mail. His wife thought otherwise.
"She was right. It would be beneficial for the children to come and grandchildren to be a part of it so they would understand, maybe, and have something to, as their lives go on, to remember and anchor this experience on," Dates said.
Dates received his medals in front of his extended family in a ceremony in Rep. Dan Maffei’s Syracuse office Friday. His family worked with Maffei’s office for a year to sort out getting them.
Dates earned those distinctions when he was 20 and serving with the Army in Vietnam. His unit was ambushed by a much larger force in southern Vietnam. He helped fend off the enemy until reinforcements could arrive. But he was wounded by shrapnel in the process.
Because it was the middle of combat, his actions were never properly documented, so his medals weren't handed down.
"I have the greatest admiration for the people that served with me; many of whom never survived, never lived to get married, have kids, to coach a softball team, to have a life," he said. "[They] laid down their lives for their comrades and for their country."
Dates says he doesn’t talk much about his time at war. But he still gets choked up thinking about it. He says he’s fortunate to have made it home.
"To have live and seen this day. Lived to see my kids grow up; see my grandkids. A lot of my comrades never had this, never had this time or opportunity," he said.
Dates is now a retired judge. He says having his medals is finally tying a loose end of his life up.