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Patriotic Article
Heroes and Patriots
By Darren Harrison

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American Hero Awarded Purple Heart and POW Medals
(January 12, 2010)

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WASHINGTON (1/7/2010 - NNS) -- A Navy veteran accepted his Prisoner of War and Purple Heart medals at the Washington Navy Yard Jan. 4 - more than 40 years after his service in Vietnam.

Lawrence J. Stark was one of only two Department of Defense civilian employees who were captured and he spent five years as a prisoner.

"This gentleman lost half a decade of his life in captivity and served as part of the Department of Defense when he was captured," said Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Manpower and Reserve Affairs) Juan Garcia. "That kind of sacrifice is rare. We haven't had anyone held for that long in [recent] conflicts; it doesn't happen like that anymore. So it's an honor to be here to meet and be part of a ceremony for a real American hero."

After fighting off attacks for two days, Stark was eventually captured on Feb. 1, 1968 during the Tet Offensive. He was released five years later in March 1973. Members of Stark's family, in attendance for the ceremony, said that the family did not know Stark's fate until just before his release and his father died without knowing that his son was a POW.

"He was taken captive and really the family did not know for sure if he was alive, if he had survived the capture until shortly before his release in 1973," said brother-in-law Richard Flammini. "Unfortunately his father died during his captivity but the family never gave up hope that he would come back and fortunately he did and we are here today and really excited for the opportunity to reward him for his service and his perseverance."

Stark was working for the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. when he was invited to go to Vietnam and work for a consortium of contractors (RMK-BRJ) under contract to DoD.

Stark accepted the invitation and went to Vietnam in April 1966 and spent a year with RMK-BRJ before returning to the United States. After a couple of months, Stark returned to Vietnam and was hired as a U.S. Navy civil service employee.

Stark was assigned to work in the city of Hue in December 1967 and was taken prisoner two months later. At the time of the capture, the five military personnel next door and the four men in his house, combined forces and resisted capture. At the end of two days of fighting, with practically no ammunition left with which to defend themselves, two men had been killed and everyone else was wounded.

"How does a civilian become eligible for a Purple Heart? People ask me that all of the time," Stark said. "I tell them that President Kennedy authorized the Purple Heart for civilians in 1962 if certain conditions are met, one of which is you had to be in combat. And we were in Hue, and we were in combat. We defended the Navy building and in the process lost a couple of guys and most of the guys were wounded. They put a mortar right on the roof and four or five of us happened to be right there. One guy who was wounded died and the others all received wounds."

Presenting the medals to Stark at the ceremony inside the U.S. Navy Museum was Naval District Washington Commandant Rear Adm. Patrick J. Lorge who paid tribute to Stark's heroism.

"As service men and women we are trained to react during a time of conflict or crisis," Lorge said. "However to accomplish what Lawrence J. Stark did as a civilian is nothing short of remarkable and deserves the highest possible recognition. I'm proud to be in his presence and humbled to share this stage with him and honored to present him with both the Purple Heart and Prisoner of War medals."

After his release Stark worked in the human resources office on the Washington Navy Yard for former director of Human Resources Dr. Vincent Vaccaro.

"I am indeed honored and humbled that Larry has asked me to speak this afternoon. First let me offer congratulations for a long overdue recognition. I am extremely pleased today,' Vaccaro said. "One of our colleagues is finally being recognized for his courage and achievements."

In addition to receiving the two medals, two members of the Rolling Thunder, Vietnam veterans Artie Muller and Michael Cobb, presented Stark with a Rolling Thunder leather jacket and declared him an honorary member.

"It's about time Larry was honored for his commitment to the freedom of our country while he was in Vietnam. He was never recognized with the POW medal, and he deserved it and has waited many, many years for that and also for the Purple Heart," Muller said.
By Darren Harrison
Naval District Washington Public Affairs
Copyright 2010

Reprinted from the Navy News Service

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