Vietnam veteran Fred Jenness holds a photo of himself from 1969 at the ceremony Monday where he received, 44 years late, the Purple Heart at Golden Valley City Hall in Ohio. (Courtney Perry / AP)
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GOLDEN VALLEY, MINN. — A Purple Heart has finally been delivered to its rightful owner, 44 years after he was wounded while serving in Vietnam.
Fred Jenness received the medal Monday during a ceremony at Golden Valley City Hall.
"The honor for me is the grandkids, that they have someone to look up to, and they know what has been sacrificed in the past," Jenness said, with his family gathered around him including his granddaughters, 5-year-old Breonna and 4-year-old Ella.
U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, whose office helped Jenness get the medal, spoke at his ceremony.
"This is an award that is long overdue for a man who gave so much for his country," Klobuchar said.
Jenness enlisted in the Navy and was a Seabee combat engineer, supporting intelligence operations in Ben Tre province of South Vietnam. He is the only surviving member today of his 13-member team, Klobuchar said.
On Dec. 19, 1969, Jenness was wounded in the leg when they were attacked. He made his way to a bunker and returned fire with machine guns and rockets, ending the attack as the enemy retreated. He was treated for his wounds and remained in the field; eventually, he was awarded the Combat Action Ribbon and the Vietnam Service Medal.
Even though his family and friends encouraged him to pursue the Purple Heart, Jenness never sought the medal, which is given for injuries sustained in combat. In 2004, Polk County Veterans Services Officer Rick Gates encouraged him to go forward after a simple conversation about Jenness' experience.
Jenness, who worked for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for 34 years before retiring in 2009, reluctantly agreed. The first reaction from the Navy was to deny him the medal. It said there was no evidence that he was in combat or that he was wounded.
The classified nature of his work compounded the delay, but an archivist in the National Museum of the Navy in Washington was able to find logs and records confirming the account.