Long overdue: Local Vietnam veteran finally recognized

Nearly 50 years after leaving the jungles and warfare in Vietnam behind, one former U.S. Army sergeant is now receiving recognition of his service by receiving the Bronze Star.

Sgt. Darrell Antill, 69, of Marietta, was officially awarded the medal on July 18 at the biannual meeting of the alumni association of his former unit, the 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division, in Springfield, Mo.

The medal is awarded to those serving in the armed forces in combat, who have distinguished themselves by heroism, outstanding achievement or meritorious service, the last of which is the reason Antill is receiving the award. The award, while not for a specific event, covers the campaigns Antill served in-The Vietnam Counteroffensive, Phase II, July 1966 to May 31, 1967; Vietnam Counteroffensive, Phase III, June 1, 1967 to Jan. 29, 1968; TET Counteroffensive, Jan. 30, 1968 to April 1, 1968; and Vietnam Counteroffensive, Phase IV, April 2, 1968 to June 30, 1968.

Antill said he’s not sure he considers himself deserving of the award, even knowing that he should have received it earlier.

“I was just doing what I was supposed to do,” he said. “I did my best to do my best.”

Retired Brig. Gen. Howard Prince, a former commanding officer of Antill’s, handed him a facsimile of the Bronze Star certificate after calling him up in front of a group of 300 soldiers and their families at the meeting.

“For him, I think it was a sense of ‘I’m finally home at last,'” Prince said. “It’s gratifying to me that we were able to do it…When (Antill) left Vietnam, he knew he’d been recommended for that award…It just slipped through the cracks, it just got lost.”

Prince said seven years ago he got involved in the process of trying to get Antill the Bronze Star and it’s taken many hands to make that possible, even one of Prince’s state senators.

“I decided to ask one of our two Texas senators, John Cornyn, (to help),” Prince said. “We met briefly a year ago. I just walked into his office without an appointment and an aide and his supervisor came out and talked to me. They said this was something they wanted the senator to (look into).”

Prince said a huge thank-you is deserved by Tim Bernard of the Army Human Resources Command.

“He guided me through the whole thing,” Prince said. “He really was the key.”

Antill was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1966.

“I didn’t volunteer, but I felt it was my duty to go,” he said. “Vietnam wasn’t that bad yet, but to fight communism, I felt it was my duty. My uncles fought in World War II. I was proud to go and do my duty.”

For one year, Antill was in Vietnam, working with the air unit.

“We actually made an air assault on a hill overlooking the South China Sea,” he said. “You’d go out, try to head out and secure the other choppers coming in. There were three of us together and I was the third one back. The front soldier was hurt pretty bad (in an explosion from a booby trap), the second one was also hurt pretty bad…I was just nearly deaf for a few hours, the explosion was so incredibly loud…I was very lucky that I got one little piece of shrapnel in me.”

Antill said after he got back stateside, he served at Fort Riley, Kan., where he was on riot patrol.

“Luckily I never had to actually go out on a riot,” he said. “I had a lot of anger problems. I didn’t want people to ask me questions (about my time in Vietnam). I felt I was doing what I was supposed to do, what my country asked me to do. I never thought about going to Canada like a lot of guys did. I was proud to do what I did, but when I cam back home it was a different story.”

Upon his arrival, Antill said there were war protests, the Kent State shooting and Robert Kennedy was killed.

“There was a lot of terror here in the United States,” he said. “A lot of people never understood why we did what we did. They just really asked questions, questions that shouldn’t be asked.”

Despite that, Antill was determined to move on with his life and met his wife Debbie, 58, when she was his dispatcher while he was driving trucks. They met in person after a year-and-a-half of talking.

“He turned out to be the love of my life, my soul mate,” she said. “We just recently celebrated our 15th anniversary.”

She said Prince has been great to interact with.

“In May, Gen. Prince knew (the award) hadn’t been issued,” she said. “He started the ball rolling again and he got it done; he’s the real hero in this.”

Prince said he is very proud to have been a part of making sure Antill received the Bronze Star, however late it may be.

“This is long overdue and richly deserved,” he said. “In the end, (this wrong) has been corrected…For the (soldiers) at the reunion…it was a vindication and recognition of all of us.”

Antill said receiving the award has not and will not change who he is, but maybe it can help others.

“I’m the same guy I was before I got it,” he said. “It didn’t change my life. It did give me a little bit of an idea that people do care…It may (help) some other soldier that’s been overlooked for so long, that you know there is hope and people really do care.”