First Shot Ceremony 2015 – Part II: Vietnam Vet Receives Medals More Than 40 Years After Battle
July 9, 2015Civilian Marksmanship Program▸The First Shot▸First Shot Ceremony 2015 – Part II: Vietnam Vet Receives Medals More Than 40 Years After Battle
By Ashley Brugnone, CMP Writer
CAMP PERRY, Ohio – In addition to the two charming “Rosie” women and the military vehicles present during the 2015 First Shot Ceremony, one of the most significant acts of the day was carried out over 40 years late by First Shot speaker, Congressman Robert Latta. The congressman was given the privilege of presenting military awards to a veteran who was long overdue in receiving recognition for his bravery during Vietnam.
Mark Kovach, 68, of Oak Harbor, Ohio, served in the U.S. Army’s 9th Division (riverine patrols) in the Mekong Delta near Dong Tam, South Vietnam, in joint operations with the Navy, in 1967-68.
At that time, the Navy would transport Army patrols up river by boat and insert them at strategic points. Kovach’s group was one of two that were backed up by a helicopter. During the transport, they were informed there were snipers in the area, but the “snipers” were really an entire battalion of North Vietnamese regulars. Soon, a firefight ensued.
Though he normally walked the point of his patrol, Kovach was temporarily assigned to work with engineers using explosives to clear obstacles, and when the battle broke out, he had a band of 10 blasting caps on his helmet. After his squad’s M-60 machine gunner went down, Kovach volunteered to take over the M-60.
While manning the machine gun, an explosion hit, and it simultaneously set off three of the blasting caps on his helmet. The helmet saved his life, but he suffered recurring concussions and sustained shrapnel wounds on his head, neck and torso. Laying in a field hospital bed, a commanding officer woke him to pin him with the Purple Heart medal, but no paperwork followed.
Officially, the Purple Heart and other service medals never made it to him. Congressman Latta’s office pursued the medals, and they were finally awarded to him at this year’s First Shot Ceremony.
The medals he received were: the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, Meritorious Service Award, Combat Infantry Badge, Vietnam Service Medal and Good Conduct Medal.
“I am very grateful for Congressman Latta’s work on this – it means a lot to me,” said Kovach. “The Combat Infantry Badge is the most important of them all. The others are great, but the CIB is the most prized to me.”
With his medals officially awarded, his outstanding courage for his country will now forever be remembered, as well it should be.
Back to the vintage military show during the ceremony, a flyover by Yankee Lady, a fully-restored WWII B-17G bomber (courtesy of Yankee Air Museum, Willow Run, Mich.), and a U.S. Navy TBM Avenger aircraft (from the Liberty Aviation Museum in Port Clinton, Ohio) captured the attention of the crowd as reenactors on the ground simulated German soldiers retaliating against the air raid with anti-aircraft weapons and full sound effects.
As the planes made a second pass, the bomb bay doors opened, and large explosions vibrated the range from pyrotechnics provided by Robert Gillmor from Gillmor Ordnance. Smoke momentarily disguised the advancing “German soldiers,” but the Sherman soon emerged from the bellowing cloud, accompanied by a precession of American reinforcements.
A “battle” arose, complete with even more pyrotechnics, and when it was all over, the Americans once again defeated the German soldiers – rewarded with thunderous applause from the grandstands.
For those wanting a closer look at vintage military vehicles, a static display of eight WWII vehicles, brought in by Tom Price of Bowling Green, Ohio, was also available for viewing by guests throughout the morning.
Congressman Robert Latta of Ohio’s Fifth Congressional District served as the First Shot speaker and fired the traditional shot down range to officially open the Matches. A talented marksmen himself and a veteran competitor at Camp Perry, he was thrilled to be given the honor.
After the medal presentation to Kovach, a Benediction was given by Ohio State Chaplain Colonel Andrew Aquino. Then, the Ohio National Guard 122nd Army Band honored all of the Armed Forces with the traditional medley of service salutes, and the National Matches were officially underway.
Special thanks to Captain Pat Thompson and the Firelands Military Vehicle Group for providing support and bringing in the “Wolverine Division” of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadets of Monroe, Mich., to serve as honor guards and additional reenactors.
For photos of the First Shot Ceremony, visit http://cmp1.zenfolio.com.