By Jean A. Flanagan
“I was more interested in my men and my equipment getting to safety than a Purple Heart.”
Roger Champ’s own words tell the story of why it took 48 years to get the Purple Heart Medal he earned in Vietnam in 1970.
Those words also tell the story of a man who put the safety of his brothers in arms ahead of any personal recognition. [private]
Roger Champ received his long-awaited Purple Heart on Friday, Nov. 10 at ceremonies held at Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College. The medal was presented by United States Senator Joe Manchin III, who told a little of Champ’s military history. “To do this on Veteran’s Day makes it really special,” Manchin said. “It’s never too late to say thank you.”
Champ was born in Grant County, one of eight children. He enlisted in the Army at age 18 and completed basic training in Ft. Knox, Ky.
Champ spent a year in Kansas and a year in Korea before being honorably discharged in 1966.
In 1968, Champ reenlisted and spent a year in Germany before being reassigned to Vietnam.
The 54th Trans Battalion, 523rd Trans Company built five-ton trucks that carried 50-caliber machine guns. Champ was later named Platoon Sergeant and for a year, he and his men secured convoys, which were ambushed almost daily.
“I was injured three or four times,” Champ said. “But I was more interested in my men and my equipment getting to safety than a Purple Heart.”
Champ was assigned to Ft. Stewart in Georgia and volunteered to go back to Vietnam. He was denied, but completed his own transfer papers and in October 1970 was assigned to Qui Nhon Support Command Headquarters. There he met Colonel John Mathias from Hardy County.
When Champ was discharged from the Army, he and his wife, Shelia settled in Hardy County.
Dr. Charles “Chuck” Terrell, president of Eastern WV Community and Technical College gave welcoming remarks.
“We are proud that Eastern is a military-friendly institution,” he said. “Everyone is looking for the American dream. Eastern provides hope for West Virginians who pursue the American dream.”
Chief Electrician’s Mate Joshua White and members of the USS West Virginia, an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, presented Champ with a Commander Coin from the Captain.
White also introduced visitors from the USS West Virginia’s Children’s Home.
Champ thanked his family for attending the ceremony and introduced his five brothers and one sister. He also acknowledged other family members and friends.
“I didn’t know I had so many friends,” he laughed at the standing-room-only crowd.
“I’m proud of what I did,” he said. “I would want to go back and do it again.”
Champ was awarded a Silver Star for Gallantry in Action, a Bronze Star, an Army Commendation Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Korea Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with Silver Star, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Gold Star, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm Unit Citation, National Defense Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with Device, Expert Marksmanship Qualification Badge with M16 and two Overseas Service Bars.
A Purple Heart is awarded to any member of the Armed Forces who is wounded or killed in any action against an enemy of the United States, in any action with an opposing armed force in a foreign country in which the United States is engaged.
West Virginians who think they or someone in their family deserve a Purple Heart should contact Sen. Manchin’s office at 304-342-5855. The Case Team will request service records and medical records to start the process.[/private]