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Vietnam vet from Reno gets Silver Star 50 years after battle

CARSON CITY, Nev. — A Vietnam War veteran from Nevada has finally received a Silver Star he earned more than 50 years ago for his bravery and leadership protecting his platoon during battle in the jungles of South Vietnam near the Cambodian border.

First Lt. Andrew LePeilbet still remembers the day his men were pinned down by grenade and small-arms fire on March 3, 1969.

His platoon from the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division was trying to infiltrate the border from Cambodia to South Vietnam’s Central Highlands in the the Plei Trap Valley. It was nicknamed the “Valley of Tears” and described as a “tortuous place” with steep mountains, misty valleys and dense jungles that blocked out the sunlight.

Unable to maneuver to avoid a firefight, the soldiers remained in a defensive posture, slowing inching their way over the ground.

LePeilbet, a 22-year-old officer from Placerville, California, crawled closer to the enemy’s position to silence their machine-gun fire.

“We had a lot of enemy fire trying to escape,” LePeilbet recalled in a recent interview with the Lahontan Valley News. He then radioed for a napalm drop.

“An F-4 pilot delivered it, and within seconds, it felt like we stuck our heads in an oven,” he said.

Once the platoon received clearance, soldiers swept the area looking for survivors.

LePeilbet, who now lives in Reno, discovered he had received the Silver Star bronze oak leaf cluster for his bravery when he searched his name online four years ago.

The Nevada Department of Veteran Services and Gov. Steve Sisolak presented LePeilbet with the Silver Star last month and recognized him as veteran of the month.

LePeilbet also has been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Air Medal and the Department of the Army Commendation medal. His unit also received several awards.

He had been wounded in another major firefight with the North Vietnamese on March 12, 1969, when shrapnel penetrated his spine and pinched his nerves.

Sisolak spoke of LePeilbet’s involvement with a number of veterans groups and work for veterans during legislative sessions.

“Andy worked in Carson City with other unpaid lobbyists actively supporting the interests of veterans and active duty military members,” Sisolak said.

Sisolak said LePeilbet became legislative liaison with the Vietnam Veterans of America 989 and keeps the chapter informed on legislation.

LePeilbet said he was humbled by the ceremony and awards.

“I would like to point out the real heroes for all of us, the 58,000 on that wall (Vietnam Wall) and ones who didn’t come home to their families,” he said. “Seven thousand Iraqi and Afghani veterans didn’t come home to their families. These are the real heroes.”

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