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Frank Gray

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Capt. Herbert Crosby was killed in action in Vietnam and is being awarded the Purple Heart for his service.

Vietnam soldier killed in action finally awarded Purple Heart

It’s been more than 43 years since Capt. Herbert Crosby, a Fort Wayne native, died when his helicopter went down in Quang Nam Province in southern Vietnam.

His father, who at one point considered going to Vietnam himself to try and find the remains of his son, died in 1991, never knowing exactly how his son died or what happened to his body.

Finally, in 2006, Herbert Crosby’s remains were found and returned to the United States, and in 2007, his remains were buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Somehow, it was fitting that Crosby, who was born on Memorial Day in 1947 and as a youngster thought the parades and flags were for him, was laid to rest on Memorial Day weekend, 50 years after his birth.

But to Crosby’s sister, Marylou Wade, there was still unfinished business for her brother, who grew up on Vance Avenue and attended Riverside Elementary School before his family moved to Georgia when he was 11 to start a boat company.

It was bad enough that Crosby, who received many medals during his service in Vietnam, including the Air Medal with 17 oak-leaf clusters, wasn’t found for years after his death. All that was known was that he had flown from a landing zone and disappeared very close to his destination on the return flight. Exactly why it crashed, whether it went down because of the weather or because it was shot down, wasn’t clear. The wreckage of his helicopter couldn’t be found.

It was bad enough that the remains of the helicopter’s crew, which were discovered in 1989, weren’t identified until 2006.

But, then, Crosby was never awarded the Purple Heart.

“I wondered why he didn’t get one,” Wade said.

The military, Wade said, explained the reason was because the helicopter crashed while returning from combat, not while it was in combat. Still Wade campaigned for her brother to get the medal.

Then, in 2011, she discovered that her brother’s co-pilot, who also died in the crash, had been awarded the Purple Heart.

This week, the military notified Wade that, 43 years after her brother’s death in Vietnam, he will be awarded the Purple Heart. The medal will be presented to Crosby’s mother, who is 94 and living in a nursing home in Florida.

“It took now 43 years to get the Purple Heart in recognition for his ultimate sacrifice,” Wade said in an email. “We are thrilled. That word seems almost inappropriate, but it’s such an honor for my brother. … I’m just happy Mom is here to experience it.”

Wade said her mother’s reaction when told the medal will be awarded was, “Good. It’s taken them long enough.”

The medal will be presented in a ceremony on March 28.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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