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News: Peters Township veteran of Vietnam receives medals 45 years after service
10/09/2016 - by By Harry Funk / Observer-Reporter / October 3, 2016
During the 1960s into the mid-’70s, a relatively new type of aircraft made its mark flying over the towns, waterways and jungles of Vietnam.
“Helicopters were a very important part of that whole war,” Peters Township resident Dennis Hixson said. “I mean, a major part. They saved a lot of lives.”
As an air mechanic in the U.S. Navy Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron 3, nicknamed the Seawolves, Hixson was present for numerous rescue and reconnaissance operations during his 1970-71 service in Vietnam.
Although he was eligible for more commendations, Hixson prior to Monday had received only the Air Medal for meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight.
That situation changed when U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, visited Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 764 in Peters to present Hixson with the rest of his honors, including the Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon, for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy, and National Defense Service Medal, for military service during periods of national emergency. He also earned the Vietnam Service Medal, Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon, Navy Good Conduct Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal and Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation.
To provide a clearer picture of what he encountered during the war, Hixson showed those who attended Monday’s ceremony a short video about the Seawolves, which former members of the squadron are working on expanding into a large-scale project. One of the veterans interviewed for the video provides this quote:
“We responded to everybody. We worked closely with the SEALS, who were virtually always in combat. We worked closely with the riverboats, and they were always out looking for trouble and getting in combat. When they weren’t engaged and using our services, we went out and looked for trouble on our own. And anybody else in the area, if we were in range to respond, we did.
“If we heard a call, we responded. That’s just the way it was.”
Murphy, who is on active duty as a commander in the Navy Reserve, assigned to Traumatic Brain Injury/PTSD Inpatient Unit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, said that Congress is working on having a monument in honor of military helicopter personnel placed at Arlington National Cemetery.
“We think that’s was such a heroic thing, whether you’re doing combat missions, providing cover or evacuating the wounded, or all of the above,” he said. “And it’s a special group of heroes from that war who made it happen.”
Hixson, a retired network analyst engineer and life member of Post 764, expressed his appreciation for receiving the medals and provided perspective about his Vietnam experience.
“It was a war that was not very well-liked publicly, I guess,” he said. “But my country asked me to go, and I went. That’s really what it was about. And if I had to do it over again, I probably would.”