It took nearly 50 years, but a Vietnam War veteran from Queens has finally gotten his Purple Heart.
U.S. Army Sgt. Gunter Harter, 73, struggled to contain his emotions at the small ceremony Friday when he accepted the military honor.
He was only 25 when he shipped off to Vietnam in 1967 — and said he still grieves for the others in his unit who didn’t return with him after their combat tour.
“We got only four guys who came back home,” said Harter after the ceremony.
“I was the lucky one. I feel sad for all the boys. They were 18, 19 years old who lost their lives,” he said.
Harter, who lives in Bellerose, was a squad leader with the Army’s 4th Battalion, 21st Infantry Division.
He was on a patrol mission in Saigon when he was wounded in action in Dec. 1968.
Harter’s right eardrum was injured during an explosion — and he wound up getting it replaced with an artificial one.
His injury qualified him for a Purple Heart, which the military awards to soldiers who are wounded or die in combat.
“I got a plaque where I got the rest of my other medals and I’m going to put it up there,” said Harter, who attended the Long Island ceremony with his wife and son.
Harter, who was born in Germany and immigrated to New York when he was 19, only recently discovered the paperwork for his award had never been filed 47 years ago.
The bureaucratic snafu was discovered with the help of U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) who was at the event Friday to hand Harter his Purple Heart.
“In March of 2014, (Harter) called our office because he thought some of his medical conditions might have been the result of that exposure to Agent Orange (during the war),” Congressman Israel said.
“He found the paperwork that had never been put in for his Purple Heart in his files,” the politician explained.
“He had the paperwork, but the Army forgot to submit it. So for 47 years, he didn’t realize that he was entitled to the Purple Heart because of his gallantry and for 47 years, the bureaucracy basically ignored it and neglected him,” Israel said.
Harter’s wife — who married him the day before he left for boot camp in South Carolina — said he worked as a machinist for Pepsi Cola after the war.
“To our family, he was always our hero,” said Helga Harter, 67, who said her young husband was a changed man when he got back from Vietnam.
“His first words were, ‘I will fight no more. I’m done fighting,’” she said.
“He kept his promise. He doesn’t have one enemy. He’s a good person.”
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