Dr. Charles E. Rath Jr. and Charles Shyab both earned the Bronze Star for their valor in battle, but neither soldier collected his medal.
At a recent ceremony at Fort Meade, the two veterans, who served in battles more than two decades apart, stood together and received the Bronze Star, awarded for valor and meritorious service. Officials also awarded each a congressional citation and an American flag that has flown over the Capitol against a background of plaudits from a U.S. senator, Army officers and a roomful of young soldiers.
Col. Jeremy Martin, commandant of the Defense Information School at the Anne Arundel County post, pinned the star with its signature red ribbon on each man's left lapel.
"These are long-overdue honors to American heroes and American treasures," he said. "Today, we pay homage and tribute to those who have served a cause greater than themselves."
Rath, a World War II veteran, and Shyab, who served in the Vietnam War, said they pursued the effort for their families and for those who fought beside them.
"I did it in honor of the men we lost, those whose lives I helped save and the many who saved my life," said Shyab, 68.
Rath, 93, said, "At my age, you forget what happened a minute ago, but the war experiences stay with me."
Rath said he would continue to wear the medal.
"It is not too heavy, and this is not something you get every day," said Rath, who earned the honor for his efforts to treat the wounded in Europe at World War II's end.
For Rath, the awards ceremony concluded a 67-year quest. His commanding officer had recommended him for a Bronze Star shortly before the young doctor was discharged.
"I had the confirmation, but at the end of the war, I shipped home and was more anxious to see my wife and 9-month-old son," said Rath, a retired surgeon. "But at 93, I want to be sure the Bronze Star is included in my obit."
Shyab, an Army medic, was injured during a pivotal battle in Vietnam. He framed his Purple Heart but abandoned efforts to secure the other medal he had earned.
"You get on with your life," said Shyab, who recently retired after 40 years teaching in public schools.
The critical step in the process ultimately fell to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, whose staff searched the archives and provided the requisite documentation. She spoke at the Nov. 9 ceremony of the honorees' courage under "the most horrific circumstances."
"You both most certainly deserve these medals and our gratitude," she said.
Rath served as assistant regimental surgeon during the fierce battles to retake Europe in 1944-1945.
"The wounded were delivered into his capable, healing hands," Mikulski said. "He was a trauma medic long before there was a trauma method."
Rath would father three more children and spend 35 years as chief of hematology at Georgetown University School of Medicine.
"We all knew he had earned the star," said his son, Rick Rath. "Now I am glad he has it show, while he is still alive."
Shyab, the senior medic at the 1968 battle of Chu Moor Mountain in Vietnam, treated many wounded during nearly three days of intense fighting, even after he was wounded himself.
"You displayed great courage and unflagging patriotism on the battlefield," Mikulski said.
Prodding from others during a reunion of his infantry company renewed his pursuit of the Bronze Star.
"We as a family never realized until recently how much effort he put forth for his country," said his wife of 44 years, Jocelyn Shyab, who said there is room for the new award in the frame with the Purple Heart.
Shyab has fostered a respect for those who serve in his three children and in his students, two of whom were among the uniformed soldiers in the audience. He has organized many field trips to the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington.
"You teach children to recognize the sacrifices," he said.
Martin said he encouraged students at the defense school to attend the ceremony.
"We honored two real American heroes today," Martin said. "I want those here today to reach out and talk to them. We stand on their shoulders."
Rath earned a gentle laugh from the audience when he told Mikulski, Maryland's senior senator, that he was proud of her, too.
"When I voted for you, I didn't really know how much good it was going to do me," he said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun