Former soldiers Kenneth Miller and the late William Lee Berg had much in common.
Both served their country with distinction, with each receiving the Purple Heart Medal, among other awards, for bravery.
Unfortunately, they also shared the fact that neither was officially recognized for their heroic actions on the battlefields decades ago.
That is until Monday, when local and state military officials gathered at the Pottawattamie County Courthouse to present long-overdue awards to the families of two individuals who defied danger so that others could enjoy freedom.
Sgt. Berg, a Vietnam War veteran who died in March 2000, received his Purple Heart for wounds suffered when the helicopter he was in as a door gunman crashed on a mission on June 18, 1968.
Berg lay wounded on enemy ground with serious neck and facial injuries before being rescued by fellow Americans.
He also received an Air Medal for participating in 25 aerial missions over hostile territory during a two-week period earlier in 1968.
“His bravery is an example to us all,” Sen. Charles Grassley said in a letter read by his local aide, Donna Barry.
Berg is in good company concerning that Air Medal, officials said during the ceremony. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin and entertainer Jimmy Stewart won that award, along with Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf.
Berg also won a Good Conduct Medal, a National Defense Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with a Silver Star, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal and the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross.
The awards were given to his daughters, Sandi Kennelly and Misty Jones.
Efforts to receive these medals for presentation began about a year-and-a-half ago, Kennelly said.
“Persistence paid off,” she said.
One reason why Berg never received his Purple Heart when it was awarded was that he was transported out of that hostile area for treatment of his wounds and somehow the medal didn't follow him, said Col. Steve Altman of the Iowa National Guard.
“It's a travesty your father didn't receive the award when he earned it,” he told Berg's daughters.
Army Private Kenny Miller, a World War II veteran, received his Purple Heart when wounded in action on June 4, 1944 in the New Guinea Campaign. His unit of roughly 100 men was on an island thought to be safe from enemy attack. Japanese forces attacked while Miller and his fellow soldiers were building a bridge, with Miller taking a bullet to the leg, among other injuries. Only seven Americans survived.
The Red Oak native – who now lives in Council Bluffs – showed the scar on his right leg, a wound that bothers him to this day.
Miller also won a Good Conduct Medal, the World War II Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with Bronze Start Attachment, the Honorable Service Lapel Button and the Marksman Badge and Rifle Bar.
“It feels great, I'm glad I received these medals and was able to serve,” the 90-year-old Miller said at the ceremony.
According to Altman, the Purple Heart Medal was established by George Washington in 1782. It was known then as the Medal of Merit.
“It was a piece of felt with a purple heart on it,” Altman said. “George Washington was looking for ways to recognize his soldiers. He didn't have money for anything else.”
Gen. Douglas MacArthur changed the name of the medal to the Purple Heart during World War II.
Miller's family worked for years to get him recognized, with help from Darlene McMartin and the Pottawattamie County Veteran's Affairs office. Like Berg, Miller was rushed off the island after his injuries, which impeded and slowed the medal process greatly.
After an extensive search for paperwork on Miller's service – much of which had been lost or destroyed, McMartin said – they were finally able to gather enough credible evidence to show Miller deserved the awards.
“We've been fighting for this for so long,” said Elizabeth Morrison, Miller's third cousin, whose mother, Juanita Richards, Miller lives with.
Echoing his thoughts on Berg's too-late medals, Altman told Miller, “It's my distinct honor to correct a wrong. My sincere apologies it took 69 years to get it right.”