Medic First Refused His Silver Star — Then, 4 Decades Later, Accepted

Army Pvt. Rob Jackson refused to accept a Silver Star for his service in the Vietnam War, uncomfortable receiving any awards after his comrades died in battle. Now, after more than four decades, he has changed his mind, accepting his Silver Star Thursday. He talks with Audie Cornish about his decision.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Today an Army veteran was given an honor for his acts on the battlefield more than 40 years ago. In 1970, in a Vietnamese jungle outside - as it was known then - Saigon, a squad of American soldiers found themselves outgunned and outnumbered. Realizing they were up against several hundred enemy troops, the Americans called in reinforcements, including 23-year-old Army medic Robert Jackson. Jackson, a conscientious objector, had an aid bag and a Bible, but no gun.

ROBERT JACKSON: Somebody was yelling doc and I heard it.

CORNISH: Doc as in Doctor?

JACKSON: As in Doctor. They called all medics doc. In their training, if you get hurt, if you get shot or shrapnel, say the word doc and that's how he'll know.

CORNISH: Under a hail of machine-gun fire, he moved in to reach two men down. Sergeant Joe Roberts who was hit in the chest. Jackson bandaged him and looked to get him to safety.

JACKSON: And I began to drag him back, off the battlefield, which seemed, frankly, like, about 200 miles. But it was 30-40 feet, maybe. I don't even know. But it wasn't a long space. So I drug him and drug him and drug him. Of course, he wasn't able to help. Over roots, over - you know. And the firefight was going on strong. And we got him back. And we got a helicopter and a dustoff, and off he went.

CORNISH: Then he went back, this time for Lieutenant Jonathan Shine - struck in the head and chest. Both men ultimately died. But when the firefight was over, for his acts of bravery on the battlefield, Private Robert Jackson was awarded the Silver Star. That's a third-highest medal for valor in combat. Private Jackson declined it.

JACKSON: The main reason for me was we had people killed and wounded. I could not conceive of going out on a parade back where it was safe and having a general pin a medal on me. I wasn't angry. I just said, I don't want it.

CORNISH: More than four decades later, Robert Jackson, now a pastor, decided to accept the Silver Star. He says it was his religion that brought about his change of heart.

JACKSON: You know, you're thinking mainly of yourself here, basically. You don't want this. And you want don't want that. People were kept - well, yes, of course, now it's been 44 years. And so I realized there's another way to do this that's more in harmony with Christ.

CORNISH: You know, I read, in part, that some of your reasoning here for deciding to accept the award after all these years was about your children.

JACKSON: Yes.

CORNISH: And help us understand that change.

JACKSON: Yes. Well, I suppose for 15 years, anyway, I've been very, very interested in the history of our country and my own family history. So I've been realizing well, this was such a crucial time in your life. It's such a trajectory for your life in many ways. Basically, what I mean by that is my goodness, the Bible is true, and God keeps his word. And I'm alive. And so it's a huge gap to not give down to the children and the grand-children, you know? Suck it up.

CORNISH: This morning you accepted the award at the Vietnam Memorial.

JACKSON: Yes.

CORNISH: What was that like for you and how did you honor the men that were lost on that day?

JACKSON: Today at the Memorial, with the wall in the background - Jonathan and Joe's name, it was the chapter on Vietnam, for me personally, ending in a way that is fitting for me. I said to the small group there - I said, I would really like to take all the credit for this, but I can't. This was a team. This was a team effort. I said the Lord Jesus was in and through it all. I thank him. I said I'd like you to turn toward the wall. And I'd like us to honor all 58,000 men and women plus. And I saluted from where I was - the wall. And everyone turned to the wall.

CORNISH: Robert Jackson, thanks so much for speaking with us.

JACKSON: Thank you.

CORNISH: That's former Army medic Robert Jackson now in possession of the Silver Star he earned in Vietnam back in 1970.

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