An unpopular war had ripped the country apart and tainted the men who fought it – made them feel like pariahs as they tried to slip back into the lives they had before they were drafted. Many of them, like Pasqual, weren’t even old enough to buy a drink or vote for or against the politicians who put them there. No patriotic groups back home were sending them care packages. Only their mothers and sisters did. No city officials threw them parades when they got home so their communities could say thank you for their sacrifice. No stranger ever came up to Pasquel Ramirez on the street, and said, “Hey, man, thank you.” Jerry Ramirez is 37 now, but he still remembers the look on his father’s face when, as a boy, Jerry asked him about war. “Like a lot of kids, I had this romantic vision of being a soldier. But when I asked my dad, he got this serious look in his eyes that kind of shook me up, like maybe I had done something wrong. “He said, `Son, if you don’t have to go to war, don’t. War is hell.”‘ Pasqual Ramirez had to go to war. And like all our Vietnam veterans, he came home to a country that really didn’t give a damn about them any more. Another Memorial Day weekend is here. And to Pasqual Ramirez and all our Vietnam veterans who were treated so shamefully for doing a job they didn’t ask to do: “Hey, man, thank you.” It takes a lot to make his father cry, Jerry says, but his dad’s former company commander in Vietnam, Capt. Jim Dabney, did that last month at a reunion of Delta Company. He surprised his old sergeant with the Bronze Star for Valor he should have received 39 years ago. With Pasqual’s family at his side, Dabney – now retired from the Pentagon – read the citation from the Secretary of the Army and finally answered the question a son asked his father years ago. The battle outside Long An, Vietnam, lasted five days in May 1968 – with more than 100 hours of intense, nonstop combat. “The soldiers of Delta Company were exhausted from lack of sleep and continuous close combat with the enemy,” the citation reads. “They were on a night search-and-destroy mission when the point squad came under heavy small-arms, automatic-weapons and machine-gun fire from an entrenched North Vietnamese army battalion. “The point squad leader, Sgt. Ramirez, deployed his squad and led his men in a series of fire and maneuver operations. They met intense enemy fire. “Recognizing the importance of maintaining contact with the enemy until the rest of the company could arrive, Sgt. Ramirez fearlessly moved among his men encouraging them to maintain their positions. “During the battle, Sgt. Ramirez was wounded. Despite his wound, he continued to encourage his men and expose himself to heavy enemy fire until he was wounded a second time and fell unconscious.” After days of fighting, Delta Company finally defeated the Vietnamese battalion. Ramirez was medevaced to an Army hospital and spent the next two months recovering. Later, the entire company was awarded the coveted Presidential Unit Citation for Bravery from then-President Richard Nixon. “I left Vietnam just a few days after the battle, leaving several recommendations for awards that one of our chopper pilots was supposed to give to our company clerk,” Dabney said this week. “I didn’t learn until just a few years ago at a reunion of Delta Company that Pasqual never received his Bronze Star. The company clerk never received the recommendations. “Pasqual was one of the most humble, loved guys in the company,” Dabney said. “After the war, he visited many of the families of soldiers who were killed serving in Delta Company. “It was so heartwarming to see him surrounded by his family when I finally presented him with his medal.” Maybe it’s better that it took so long to get his Bronze Star, Pasqual said. With his wife, Irene, and sons, Jerry and Pasqual Jr., by his side, it means more now than it would have 39 years ago when all he wanted to do was forget about Vietnam. He’s still out there fighting for veterans’ benefits for guys who served in Vietnam. Still keeping in touch with the men who never got a thank-you from their country when they got home. “I remember Jerry asking me about war when he was a boy,” Pasqual said Thursday. “Nothing’s changed. It’s still hell.” Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. [email protected] (818) 713-3749160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!