COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho - A Coeur d'Alene man who participated in two combat tours in Southeast Asia with the 101st Airborne Division finally received awards for valor Thursday he earned more than 40 years ago in the jungles of Vietnam.
It was due to a paperwork mistake that former Army Sgt. Leon Strigotte had to wait 44 years to receive several medals he earned in Vietnam. The Idaho Army National Guard made sure to thank him for his service, with the state's Guard commander, Brig. Gen. John Goodale, on hand to present Strigotte his awards.
Guardsman and fellow combat veterans manned the hallways of the Idaho Army Guard armory in Post Falls Friday to welcome Strigotte, who served two tours in Vietnam between 1967 and 1969. During his service, he was wounded three times -- once during the Tet Offensive in March 1968 and in the Central Highlands in August and again in December of 1969.
During Tet, Strigotte was injured in a land mine explosion, was rehabilitated and then asked to go back. After his second wound in late 1969 he was sent home. He was later awarded three Purple Hearts for being wounded in combat, but the other medals he had earned were lost due to a clerical error.
He was told that after he was med-evaced from Vietnam his paper trail of what he did didn't quite follow him. One year turned into two years, then two decades. On Friday, 44 years later, that paper trail finally caught up to him. Strigotte finally received the medals he had earned, including the Bronze Star, Air Medal and the Army Commendation Medal.
"Like a lot of things in the systems, somehow this was overlooked and now it's been rectified," Strigotte said.
Strigotte's wife Linda has been with him 42 years and was beaming with pride for his achievements, especially after having seen the worst of it.
"What it was like when he came home; he was harassed when he got off the plane. And that's something he's had to live with all these years and I think this kind of helps him," she said.
Three medals pinned to his jacket lapel relieved some of the four decades of weight on his shoulders.
"It brings a lot of closure. I didn't expect so much today, but it's touched me a lot," he said.
Strigotte said he had mixed reactions to the ceremony. On one hand he appreciated the gesture, but on the other he struggled because he lost close friends and said those soldiers deserve the accolades.