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Santa Barbara County Man To Receive Purple Heart Half Century After He Was Supposed To Get It


He was just a kid when he, and three of his buddies signed up to become Marines, and went off to war in Vietnam. Bruce Bennett was seriously wounded, but the Santa Barbara County man survived.

This week, nearly a half century after Bennett was wounded, the now 68 year old man is going to receive the Purple Heart he never received at the time.

The Los Olivos man admits as teenagers, he and his buddies had no idea of what they were getting into when the signed up to serve their country. They saw the images on television, and heard from friends in the service, but says nothing prepared them for the actual experience. Bennett says he quickly realized that death was everywhere in Vietnam. He admits it was pretty frightening, and he quickly learned that when bullet came whizzing by your head, you hit the ground.

On April 30th, 1968 his unit was ordered to guard a key section of a highway used to move military supplies. They set up camp on a hill, but soon came under mortar fire. Bennett jumped into a trench, but he still suffered two wounds. He was hit in the leg, and the blast also shattered a disc in his back.

He spent weeks in hospitals in Vietnam and Japan, before being shipped back home, where he was discharged from the Marines. He was the only one of his group of friends who enlisted together who was wounded. Over the years, he’s had five back surgeries. He says he’s learned to live with the pain. Bennett says he lost some of his personal items when he was being moved around after being wounded.

The one thing he never received was a Purple Heart, something the military honors you with when you are wounded in combat. Bennett says he has a great life, with a wife, two daughters, a stepson, and six grandchildren. He’s retired after careers which included time in the mortuary, and law enforcement fields. About four years ago he decided he wanted to get the Purple Heart he never received. But, his efforts to request it through the military failed, because their records showed he had received it 48 years ago.

A chance meeting with an aide for Democratic Congresswoman Lois Capps of Santa Barbara led to her office’s help, and four months later, the Purple Heart. Bennett is going to receive it at a Friday ceremony at the Hearts Therapeudic Equestrian Center in Santa Barbara, a place he says helped him, and other veterans cope with stress over the years.

Bennett says while the Purple Heart has been almost a half century in coming, he’s happy it’s finally happening, and will be a special way of remembering the service he performed for our country.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.