At long last, a Vietnam War vet's family received his Purple Heart on behalf of Stacy, Minn. soldier Stephen Dufeck on Sunday in St. Paul.
A clerical error put his honors on hold. He was deployed in 1967 and survived the bloodiest part of the war, but when you combine a soldier's modesty and conflicted feelings about his service, 45 years can go by unnoticed – he was part of a generation that often tried to hide their service because of the negative attitude they received upon arriving home.
Eight months after his death from throat cancer, Stephen Dufeck was honored in an emotional day at the Veteran's Memorial in St. Paul as Sen. Amy Klobuchar presented the Purple Heart to Dufeck's sons and grandson Stephen, named after his grandfather.
"It never really came up much, and he wouldn't really talk about it much," son Jason Dufeck said.
Stephen Dufeck graduated from high school in 1966, and rather than waiting to be drafted, he volunteered for the Army during height of the Vietnam War.
"Guys that we worked with down at Anderson Window didn't even know he was in the service," son Jim Dufeck said.
In Sept. 1968, Stephen Dufeck's parents received a telegram that he'd been wounded during an enemy rocket and mortar attack and he would carry shrapnel in his head for the rest of his life -- a reminder of his service and sacrifice.
"When they came back they got no recognition, nobody wanted to acknowledge that they were ever there," Jim Dufeck said.
Due to an error when was he discharged, he never received his Purple Heart. His family calls him a humble hero -- the last person to seek attention. After being diagnosed with terminal throat cancer, he began to come to peace with his role in the Vietnam War. At his family's insistence, they reached out to Sen. Amy Klobuchar to try and set the record straight.
"This story is a Vietnam story, because here's a soldier that came back at a time where a lot of people where taking out their feelings about the war on the warriors, and that just wasn't right," Sen. Klobuchar said.
Eight months after he passed away, the Purple Heart was presented to his three sons and grandson Stephen.
"Just knowing what it symbolized is breathtaking to say the least -- knowing what he went though in order to get it," Jason Dufeck said.