Deceased Vietnam Veteran Receives Purple Heart 50 Years Later

Capt. Lawrence “Larry” Oliveira. Photo Courtesy: ʻOhana Oliveira.
Photo Courtesy: ʻOhana Oliveira

A deceased Vietnam War veteran will receive a Purple Heart 50 years after a rocket-propelled grenade hit him.

Family members of the late Capt. Lawrence “Larry” R. Oliveira of Nahiku received the award on his behalf during a ceremony on Monday at the Makawao Veterans Cemetery, the Maui News reported.

“It’s about time,” said Thomas “Tommy” Duarte, who attended officer cadet school with Oliveira, and gave Oliveira’s daughters the Purple Heart medal in front of an audience of 700 people.

It is one of two honors Oliveira’s family and other Maui veterans lobbied for him to receive after his death. After two years, Oliveira’s name will also be inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC— an honor difficult to obtain for wounded veterans who died outside of Vietnam.

Oliveira returned to Hawaii after he was injured in 1969. During that period of time, he underwent multiple surgeries to remove shrapnel from his right shoulder and spent a year undergoing physical therapy to regain the use of the arm. Not all the shrapnel could be removed.

Oliveira’s shoulder and arm was pieced together with skin grafts and an iron rod, leading to his medical discharge from the military in December 1970.

The Vietnam veteran lived in Maui, worked for the county, and started a ranch in Nahiku before he passed away on May 10, 1974, from complications due to the shrapnel being in his body.

He left behind five daughters, the youngest being three months old at the time and the eldest being nine years old.

“Daddy was always a hero to us,” the surviving sisters said. “Now, he will be a hero to the millions of others who visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall.”

Oliveira is not the first Vietnam veteran to receive a Purple Heart five decades later.

In May, Army Staff Sgt. Timothy Shelton, of Ohio, was honored with a Purple Heart 50 years after he was wounded when a land mine exploded on him while he was on patrol. After Shelton recovered, he served as a drill sergeant at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, before his discharge in 1971.

A clerk mistakenly wrote that there was no evidence he was wounded in battle in his discharge papers, but Shelton chose to keep quiet about it and not correct the record.

Fifty years later, Shelton reached out to Sen. Rob Portman’s (R-OH) office regarding a disability claim when the issue came up.  At that time, Portman honored Shelton with a Purple Heart ceremony in May—50 years later.

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