In the fog of war, it’s not uncommon for outstanding pieces of heroism to go unrecognized — at least for a time. In the case of Joe Rochefort, a lack of recognition was one part needing to protect secrets and another part bureaucratic vengeance.
Other times, it simply takes a while for the necessary proof of heroism to be gathered. This was the case for Corporal Stephen Austin.
Austin served with the 27th Marine Regiment during the Vietnam War. According to a report by the Fresno Bee, it took two attempts and a number of years to gather the statements from Austin’s fellow Marines about what he did when his platoon was ambushed on June 8, 1968, during Operation Allen Brook.
Fellow Marine Grady Birdsong felt no bitterness about the length of time it took to recognize Austin’s valor.
“We were on the move all the time and, to be real honest with you, we weren’t concerned about awards. We were just concerned about staying alive and being able to come home,” he explained.
Birdsong, though, took up the cause after the death of Al Joyner, another Vietnam veteran who served alongside Austin.
Dog tags once worn by Stephen Austin during his military service, when ended when he was killed in action.
(USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Marcos Alvarado)
The initial award was slated to be a Silver Star. However, after the statements were reviewed, the award was upgraded to the Navy Cross — a decoration for valor second only to the Medal of Honor. If you read the citation, it’s clear why it was upgraded.
“With complete disregard for his own safety,” the citation reads, Austin broke cover to attack an enemy machine gun nest with a hand grenade. He succeeded in hitting the position but was mortally wounded. Because of his actions, surviving members of his platoon were able to eliminate the enemy.
General Robert Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps, presented the Navy Cross to Austin’s daughter.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Olivia Ortiz)
The Navy Cross was personally presented by General Robert Neller, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, to Austin’s daughter, Neily Esposito, on July 21, 2018. The 27th Marine Regiment is currently inactive.