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By B. Scott Mohr
Woody Larkin is a patient man, as evidenced by nearly a half-century wait to receive his Bronze Star Medal. But it wasn’t red tape that kept Larkin from receiving the medal ... he was unaware that he had been presented one until earlier this year.
His discovery came after deciding to get a ball cap on which to affix his pins of valor, which included a Purple Heart and several others. Curious if he had earned any other decorations while serving in the Navy as a hospital corpsman with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 27th Marines during the Vietnam War, he contacted the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.
Imagine his shock when learning he had been awarded a Bronze Star in July 1968. “My reaction was a mixture of joy, pride and skepticism. Was this a mistake? But when I went online it was there. This was remarkable. It’s no ones fault that I didn’t get it earlier,” said Larkin, who pointed to several factors for the mix up: “The fact that I was in a temporary retirement situation; that I was moving from Michigan to Indiana; the fact that I was pursing a career; who knows what else.”
Larkin recalls the day for which he was honored. It was a hot, humid May 17, 1968, when he and his comrades were sweeping through elephant grass in search of explosives. Larkin could have stayed behind in the safety of the bunkers, but he was willing to put himself in harm’s way for the safety of others.
“I remember fellow corpsman David “Doc” Bronson yelling, ‘Woody, get down!’ I didn’t have time to do anything as I was knocked to the ground by an explosion. I remember it being loud, the smell of sulfur and a lot of flames. I felt like I was blown to bits. I just asked for a shot of morphine.
“I was medevaced to a field hospital where I was cleaned up and put back together. I didn’t lose any limbs, but I had some broken bones, a bunch of cuts and a collapsed lung, and my kidney was in my abdomen.
“I remember the doctors using wires to close up wounds, but not all of the wires were completely in my body so some of them got caught on my sheets. I was somewhat disoriented and in out of consciousness for the first 24 hours so. I do remember that the field hospital certainly wasn’t anything deluxe.”
From there Larkin spend time in about a half-dozen hospitals before doing his final rehab at Great Lakes Naval Hospital in Illinois, where he was released from the Navy in December 1968.
Larkin was recently contacted by Bronson, who offered his congratulations and a short note of what happened that dreadful day. “It was my right foot that tripped that booby trap, my guess is that it was an anti-personnel grenade that the Vietcong had gotten from us. For years I had no idea how you made it after that day. Sorry that you suffered through that long recovery period. ... And Woody, when some says, ‘Get down!’ they mean it.”
“I didn’t think I did anything special to earn the medal,” said Larkin. “I was just doing my job.” But it was that meritorious service in a combat zone that earned him the honor.
After being discharged from the military he held a handful of jobs before attending school at IUPUI to become a registered nurse. He graduated summa cum laude an was employed 35 years as a dialysis nurse at the Indiana University Medical Center and Methodist Hospital before retiring.
Larkin, 73 and a longtime divorce, is a bicyclist and an amateur astronomer who enjoys stargazing from his yard in Foothill Farms, which is off West Southport Road. “I have more than a dozen telescopes. Orion is the prominent constellation in the southern sky now. And Jupiter is coming up in the evenings,” he said.
“I never had post-traumatic stress disorder from military service, but I do of being a nurse,” he chuckled.