Twice delayed, but not denied – Vietnam vet finally awarded Purple Heart

Local News

COLUMBUS, Ga. – A Vietnam veteran and his family received a long-awaited honor from US Congressman Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) Wednesday. It’s a story of perseverance and persistence, and how they paid off more than 40 years later.

Former Captain Robert Goolsby’s life is comprised of a series of miracles. First, he made it out of Vietnam alive after his helicopter crashed, and he fell 15 stories from the sky. And though he was awarded a purple heart, it took four-and-a-half decades and a miraculous discovery for him to have the medal pinned on his jacket.

“It took a long time, but I guess that’s what to be expected with the Army,” Goolsby remarked after waiting so long for his medal. “But I feel good.”

In 1971, Captain Goolsby piloted a helicopter shot down by enemy fire. He suffered severe injuries and had to have surgery abroad. Even though he was promised a Purple Heart then, Goolsby had to submit paperwork in order to receive the medal. In the following years, confusion, inconsistencies the Army Review Board found in various testimonies about the helicopter crash, and a lack of documentation differentiating whether the crash was an accident or actually caused by enemy fire. Goolsby’s family couldn’t be prouder though.

“I’m mad he didn’t have it this whole time because he deserved it,” Robert “Gabe” Goolsby, the veteran’s grandson said. “Now that he has it, it’s great because he earned it.”

The former captain in the Vietnam War accepts the honor on behalf of his entire family. Goolsby’s wife, Sharon, didn’t even know her husband would return from Vietnam. She spent nine months wit her husband before he went on tour. All these years later, she says, they seem like a blur.

“I didn’t know if he was going to walk again,” Sharon Goolsby said. “I’ve seen him suffer through the years with this, from his injuries. And it’s just awesome to see him get the recognition he deserves.”

Congressman Westmoreland faces the last months of his political service with anxiety that he’ll miss a special part of his job.

“Being able to stand here in front of heroes and pin medals on them because I think about the sacrifice that they made for me and my family and my children, my grandchildren…to be able to live in the kind of freedom that we do today,” Westmoreland explained.

Goolsby reminds anyone pursuing what they deserve to “just keep slugging it out” and to “do whatever it takes and just keep doing it.”

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