By Fran Mayefmaye@21st-centurymedia.com @kennettpaper on Twitter
KENNETT SQUARE >> A Kennett Square man wounded in battle 44 years ago in Vietnam has finally received the award he was entitled to many years ago — the Purple Heart.
“It means a lot to me, I look at it every day,” said Michael Tuscano, 66, a U.S. Marine who served in the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1970. “It reminds me of my service and the 55,000 service people who died there.”
Tuscano received the award from Vice President Joseph Biden in Washington, D.C., earlier this year. It was the culmination of a decades-long quest to receive the honor that involved letter-writing campaigns, telephone calls and trips to Quantico, Virginia, headquarters of the U.S. Marines.
But the tipping point came when Tuscano’s wife, Gayle, wrote to Biden’s sister, Valerie, who recently lived in Kennett Square. Gayle came to know Valerie because both are members of the Kennett Square County Club.
Gayle, who met Michael in 1982, didn’t find out about her husband’s eligibility for the Purple Heart until just recently. She said he never talked about it, but when he discovered he had kidney cancer in 2000, he began to reveal the details to her.
Tuscano was a machine gunner in the deep jungles of Vietnam. He provided cover to troops trying to navigate the area. Machine gunners are the first target the enemy goes after, he said, and a bomb exploded near him, sending shrapnel into his chest.
“It was pretty far out there,” he said. “The marines went out and into the field to find people. It was an ambush. I originally thought somebody punched me and then I saw blood. But I recovered just fine.”
He said he still harbors ill thoughts of the war. Back then, servicemen and women were not permitted to wear their uniforms home. They did not receive a hero’s welcome upon return, as many do today.
“It took so much (to get the Purple Heart),” said Tuscano, whose cousin was killed in the Vietnam War. “I still have a lot of pain over the war and the way we were treated. I always think about my fallen brothers. To finally be recognized for what we have done really feels great.”
Tuscano was born in northern New Jersey. When he returned home in 1970, he got a job at Sharp Electronics, making $90 a week fixing calculators. He retired 30 years later as vice president of Sharp’s Eastern service division.
The Military Order of the Purple Heart is issued to veterans wounded or killed in any action against an enemy of the United States or as a result of an act of any such enemy or opposing armed forces. The Purple Heart is the oldest military award still given to U.S. military members; the only earlier award being the obsolete Fidelity Medallion. The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor is located in New Windsor, New York. The Purple Heart differs from all other decorations in that an individual is not “recommended” for the decoration; rather he or she is entitled to it upon meeting specific criteria.
“I was very impressed with Biden,” Tuscano said. “He gave us so much of his time. We got to tour the Eisenhower executive building and we would have met the president (Barack Obama) but he was on the phone with (Russian president Vladimar) Putin.”
Months after receiving the award, he was playing golf at the Kennett Country Club when he noticed Biden, who plays there often.
“I didn’t want to bother him, I just wanted to go up to him and thank him,” Tuscano said. “I wrote him a thank you note and wanted to see if he got it. But he said he wanted to thank me. I thought that was nice.”