Vietnam vet's Purple Heart arrives after 46 years

JONES COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - "I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," said Vietnam veteran Jimmy East.

Sixty-seven years old now, it's been four and a half decades since he lost an eye in the Vietnam War, and it was just yesterday, that retired Army Specialist Jimmy East finally got his Purple Heart.

It arrived on his doorstep Monday, no pomp, no affair, just in a box.

He's had a hard life. His father died, he enlisted in the army to pay his mother's health bills, and then she died.   And then he had no home left - so he volunteered to go to war, and was there for just a few months, when he lost his right eye in a grenade attack.

"I walked in and didn't know there was a VC behind me - I just thought it was an old Vietnamese and as soon as I walked in, a grenade came in behind me," East said.

The shrapnel wound to the head left him with a bad memory, and a glass eye. And life from there on out, was not easy

"I wanted to be a government worker or an overseer. I wanted to go into the oil patch and make my killing - or make my living," East said. "I filled out application on top of application. But nobody would hire me, and I couldn't find out why. Finally one of em told me - we can't hire you because you've got one eye."

But then about three years ago the other soldiers - his friends - who were also hurt in the grenade attack got in touch. The incident had been misreported, and together, they gathered evidence, and set all the records straight. That they were just hanging out in a local army watering hole, when an enemy soldier threw a grenade.

They were all injured. But America - officially - didn't say so.

East said that he was ashamed, that for all these years, he thought he didn't get it because he had screwed up somehow.

"I think he's just kind of beat himself up all these years for not having it and  just, didn't feel worthy of anything," said his daughter Amy Graves.

East says that the medal's not for him anymore - it is for his family. His daughter and his grandsons.

If anyone needed proof that there's an American hero in the family, it is there now.

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