Senator Mike Crapo helps reissue Vietnam veteran’s stolen medals
NAMPA — Bobby Gene Peterson hoped for the Vietnam War to be over soon.
Often in his letters home, the Army specialist wrote about how proud he was to serve and how his map and compass reading skills that he learned as a Boy Scout helped him navigate the war-torn country.
He wrote he was willing and looking forward to reenlisting in the Army.
But on July 27, 1967, tragedy struck. Peterson was killed in the conflict.
Fifty years later, the medals bestowed to him for his service were stolen in a burglary of his parents’ home.
It would take the efforts of his older sister, Janet Emmons, and the help of the office of U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho, to have them reissued.
A year ago, when Emmons, 72, moved to the house her parents left for her in Nampa, she found Peterson’s Vietnam War medals and uniform had been stolen, among other items.
She decided she had to get the medals back, but not through eBay, where she assumes the medals were sold.
“He’s like so many others from Vietnam, we don’t even think about them these days, but that young boy over there who I’m still crying over would have had grandchildren now,” Emmons said. “To me, he will always be 20 years old.”
Emmons contacted Crapo’s office earlier this year in March, and on July 24, a day after what would have been Peterson’s 70th birthday, she received the medals via FedEx.
Requests from families and veterans make up about half of the casework Crapo’s office receives, said Lindsay Nothern, Crapo’s spokesman.
Peterson was a red-haired, hazel-eyed skinny 6-foot-1-inch soldier who volunteered to serve in the Army at the age of 18.
“It was his duty to go,” Emmons said. “He volunteered.”
He was first stationed in Germany in 1965, where he also took classes in science, math and English, then was sent to Vietnam.
Just a month before he was scheduled to return home, Peterson was killed in a bombardment while trying to save a friend.
“It was at night, and they were all sleeping,” Emmons said. “He raised up to help his mate next to him, and he was killed.”
Peterson was awarded a Bronze Star medal for his valor.
The Bronze Star is awarded to personnel who distinguish themselves by heroic or meritorious achievements, serving in any capacity in the armed forces, Nothern said.
Peterson earned seven awards in total for his service: the Vietnam Service medal, National Defense Service medal, a sharpshooter badge for marksmanship, a ribbon from the Vietnamese government, two Purple Hearts and one Bronze Star. Of which, six, except one Purple Heart, have been reissued.
“I didn’t know he knew how to shoot a gun so well,” Emmons said. “We as a family were proud of him.”
A Purple Heart is awarded to soldiers killed or wounded by an enemy force during wartime.
“It is specifically a combat decoration,” Nothern said.
Although only one Purple Heart has been reissued to Emmons, she is in the process of filing a request for the second one, which wasn’t originally issued due to lack of evidence.
Emmons remembers Peterson “as a good kid,” who “loved cows and girls.”
“He always had a girlfriend,” she said. “In Germany, he was dating a French woman and they were quite serious.”
Emmons last saw her brother in 1966 when he visited home for Thanksgiving before going back to Vietnam. Fifty years after his death, she still has letters and postcards Peterson wrote to their parents and her.
In one letter, she said, “He teased me about being newly married.” She even has some of his clothes in a wooden chest box Peterson had built himself.
When he was 9 years old, Peterson found a ring from the Marine Corps which he wore for many years. He couldn’t enroll in the Marines because of poor eye sight, Emmons said, “but he served the country through the army.”
In January 1967, Peterson was wounded with a bullet on his leg. In a letter to his parents describing the incident, he said, “I was the luckiest ... it was only a scratch.”
He was awarded his first Purple Heart after this incident, to which he said in a letter, “I didn’t think it was enough for a Purple Heart.”
“He kept very little for himself and always sent money home,” Emmons said. “When he died, he had $4.47 with him.”
Peterson wrote poems in high school and in one particular poem, he wrote about his dreams. He wrote, “When I dream, I dream of being proud.”
Emmons is a retired professor who lived and taught marketing at Xiamen University in China for three years and worked in South Korea for another five years. Today, she feeds 15 stray cats even though she is allergic to them, reads books and does paintings and sculptures in her Nampa home.
She wants to write a book on living in China as someone who lived there alone with no help and without knowing the language.
PROCESS OF GETTING MEDALS REISSUED
The process of getting lost or stolen medals reissued is fairly straightforward and can be accessed through the national archives’ website, in the Veterans’ Service Records section, said Bill Heyob, director of the Office of Veterans Advocacy in Boise.
“Most people don’t know where to look for in such cases,” Heyob said.
His work for the Idaho Division of Veterans Services’ advocacy department involves “listening to what veterans and their families need,” and helping them file for things such as survivor benefits, updating records and filing for grants.
He said while such cases are not extremely common, he does see one occasionally.
Once a request is filed with the concerned branch of service, they look for evidences of awards won before reissuing. Evidences can include casualty incident reports, and witness testimonies, Heyob said.
Although the success rate of getting lost or stolen medals replaced is “pretty high,” according to Heyob, families often involve congressmen or senators in cases where evidence is lacking.
“If you get a congressman or senator supporting you, you have more fire power,” Heyob said.
It’s an honor Crapo’s office takes seriously.
“It is one of the most rewarding parts of our job,” Northen said, “to be able to help people who have served our country and need our help.”