By Will Ashenmacher
Better late than never.
More than four decades after he was wounded during the Vietnam War, Mike Kirkpatrick of Bloomington was awarded the Purple Heart on Saturday, Nov. 10.
"It's hard to explain what it means," said Kirkpatrick, 68. "I'm amazed."
Kirkpatrick was serving as a Navy hospital corpsman in Vietnam when, during a search-and-destroy mission on July 9, 1968, a comrade stepped on an explosive device.
Kirkpatrick said he didn't know he had been struck by a piece of shrapnel until he was helping a wounded radio operator and someone thrust a wad of field dressing toward his head.
Two other injured service members were awarded Purple Hearts, but Kirkpatrick wasn't.
"I thought I should get one, but I just let it slide," he said.
The Purple Heart is given to all service members wounded or killed by enemy fire.
Years went by. In 2011, Kirkpatrick was reunited with his service buddies, and when they found out he still hadn't gotten his Purple Heart, they vowed to help.
After making little headway with the military, they eventually contacted the office of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
Kirkpatrick said he was running errands not long ago when he got a call on his cellphone informing him he would be awarded his Purple Heart after all.
"I almost fell over," he recalled.
On Saturday, Klobuchar presented Kirkpatrick with his medal during a ceremony at Bloomington City Hall.
"I'm very amazed and very happy to receive this," he said. "It's more than I expected. I just did my duty."
Klobuchar said her office gets two to three inquiries per year about Purple Hearts that were never awarded.
"It was nothing to do with him. But as you know, at that time, there was a lot going on in our country," she said during her remarks at the ceremony.
Kirkpatrick said he planned to wear his medal pinned to his collar the rest of the day.
"It's quite the weekend, since tomorrow is Veterans Day and all," he said.