Like many Vietnam Veterans, James David Portman gave away his medals, decorations, uniforms, and anything else that would mark him as a U.S. Military service-member after returning home from combat. 45 years later, he got them back at the Active Heroes Military Family Community Center, at a ceremony held by his family and close friends.
David’s nephew, Jeff Portman, has spent the last six months working to collect all of the necessary components to reassemble a Vietnam-era Army Class A dress uniform with accurate medals, ribbons, and decorations, to give to his uncle. Jeff himself is a Gulf War Veteran who served for over 20 years in the U.S. Navy., and he started working on re-assembling David’s uniform after a passing conversation they had several months ago, when David mentioned that he wished he had never gotten rid of all of his memorabilia from his time spent in the Army. In addition to the uniform and its decorations, Jeff collected several Army patches, pictures from David’s unit, and the 1970 article from the Leitchfield Gazette with details about David’s combat service and the Bronze Star with Valor that he received after his tour. Jeff got a copy of David’s DD214 (military service record) to ensure that David’s uniform would have the accurate decorations.
After the collection was assembled, Jeff needed to find a suitable date and location to host a surprise re-dedication ceremony for his uncle. Jeff works at Sullivan University in Louisville, and spoke with Julie Hart at the school’s Veteran’s Affairs Department about his idea. Julie suggested that Jeff contact Active Heroes, and Jeff agreed to host the ceremony at our Military Family Community Center after speaking with our Carry The Fallen Director, Mr. Nathan Karpinski.
The ceremony was held at our Center on Wednesday, 22 April, which was also the 45th anniversary of the combat engagement that earned David the Bronze Star with Valor. The ceremony was attended by David’s wife and other family members, friends of the family, the Active Heroes staff, and Mr. Dick Brien, Director of Sullivan University’s Corporate Learning Department (himself a Vietnam Veteran of the U.S. Air Force). By the time David wife arrived, the fully assembled uniform had been covered, the pictures and patches were hidden, and the slideshow that Jeff and Cheryl put together was blank. With his opening remarks, Jeff thanked everyone for attending before revealing that David was the actual guest of honor for the evening. After giving the backstory behind his quest to reassemble David’s uniform and collection of military memorabilia, Jeff proudly removed the cover on the uniform, showed David his picture album and picture slideshow, and then read the full citation of David’s Bronze Star with Valor before presenting his uncle with the medal:
“For heroism in connection with ground operations against a hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam. Private First Class Portman distinguished himself by valorous actions on 22 April 1970 while serving as a sniper team member on a five man ambush patrol. At 0100 hours on this day, the ambush patrol engaged an enemy platoon near An Do Hamlet in Tam Quan District. During the contact Private First Class Portman continuously exposed himself to intense enemy small arms fire with total disregard for his personal safety as he engaged the enemy with his M-14 sniper rifle. In spite of the heavy volume of hostile fire upon him, Private First Class Portman continued to engage the enemy until they were forced to withdraw. As a result of the engagement eight enemy soldiers were silenced and five weapons captured. Through his aggressiveness and outstanding courage Private First Class Portman contributed immeasurably to the success of the mission. Private First Class Portman’s personal bravery and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.”
After the applause died down from the reading of the citation, David took everyone in the room on a virtual tour through the slideshow album by naming friends, vehicles, and places in the pictures on the projector screen. After telling stories about what several of his old comrades are doing these days, David joked, “All these guys are big time bankers and lawyers now, I don’t know what I did wrong along the way!” to which Dick Brien replied, “I think what we’ve all heard here tonight is that there’s a lot that you did right.”
Active Heroes was truly honored to host the Portman family at our Military Family Community Center and participate in the rededication ceremony for SP4 David Portman’s military uniform and Bronze Star with Valor. We thank him for his service to his country and wish him the best. Hooah!