Detroit News Washington Bureau
July 10, 2016
Rivera said he was so convinced that Johnson had died in his arms that he kept a band from one of Johnson’s boots that he wore around his wrist to remind him of the friend he believed died in combat.
Herman Johnson, center, with his onetime Vietnam buddy Fred Rivera, left, on Sunday accepted his Purple Heart that had been long denied him during a ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.Washington — Herman Johnson is a Vietnam War veteran who was injured in a 1969 battle that left his best friend believing he was dead for 47 years.
(Photo: Keith Laing / The Detroit News)
Johnson’s friend, Fred Rivera of California, wrote a book about the impact of believing his best friend had died in his arms during combat that led to the discovery that Johnson was alive and well in Michigan.
The two friends were reunited for the first time in nearly five decades as Johnson, of Warren, was given a surprise Purple Heart decoration in a ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington on Sunday that that was arranged with the assistance of U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak.
Johnson said he never expected to be reunited with an old friend or receive the Purple Heart, which is the military’s oldest award that is given to members who are wounded or killed.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “I never expected to see Fred again.”
Johnson was nearly moved to tears by the presentation of Purple Heart. He recalled being denied the decoration when he returned from Vietnam in the late 1960s.
“I never thought it would happen, because this lady denied me a couple of times,” he said, referencing an Army official who processed his paperwork after his initial return to the U.S.
“When I got hit, I went down...I said ‘Oh God, am I in heaven?,’ Johnson recalled of the firefight that left Rivera believing he was dead.
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