JACKSON CENTER – Edward C. York Jr. doesn’t remember much about his combat experience during the Vietnam War. But now he’s a member of the Ohio Military Hall of Fame for Valor, ensuring his heroics won’t be forgotten.
York, a 1965 graduate of Jackson Center High School, was inducted Sunday evening into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame for Valor. He’s one of 30 members of the class of 2020, each of whom received a medal of valor while serving in the United States armed forces.
“It’s overwhelming,” York said of being inducted into the hall of fame.
“I’ve always been proud of what I did. I served my country, and I am proud of what I did over there.”
York, who lives in Jackson Center with his wife, Janice York, received the Bronze Star with “V” device for his heroics on Jan. 16, 1969, while serving on a swift boat in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam.
During an operation supporting troops in the region, his boat was ambushed, and the pilot house was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, severely wounding the commanding officer. He took over a gun mount and suppressed the enemy fire while other crew members tended to the wounded, allowing them to escape without further damage.
“When they got under fire, he was the one that brought the boat back to safety,” Janice York said. “He took a mattress and put it up against the hole that was in the boat.”
York doesn’t remember much about that or the rest of his approximately nine months of combat experience in Vietnam.
“I can’t really tell you a whole lot about it because I don’t remember a lot of it,” he said. “I can remember a lot of the things from the base and stuff, but any of the combat, my mind has blocked it out.
“It bothered me for a while, but I’ve talked to the VA down there, and they said whatever I’ve seen, I’ve seen something that my mind has blocked it out that I don’t need to know.”
Having seen other veterans who’ve suffered with post-traumatic stress disorder, York said, he’s somewhat grateful that his mind has suppressed the memories of his time in combat.
“Overall it was a good experience. I’ve seen a lot of the world I wouldn’t have seen otherwise,” he said of his time in the military, adding he sailed the Mediterranean Sea for 13 months and visited historic sites in Athens, Greece, and Rome, Italy.
He does have painful memories, though, from when he returned to the U.S. in September 1969.
“When I come back from Vietnam, I come back in that time where you were called baby killers and everything else,” he said. “And even my Bronze Star I got in the mail. It was never presented to me. You got it in the mail.”
More than 50 years after he received his Bronze Star in the mail, York got to have a ceremony to recognize his service and heroics when he was inducted into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame for Valor on Sunday at American Legion Post 493 in Jackson Center.
The ceremony originally was supposed to be at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus with the rest of the class of 2020. However, it was postponed twice because of the COVID-19 pandemic before organizers shifted to smaller ceremonies near the recipients’ homes.
York learned in February that he was selected for the hall of fame, having been nominated by his wife. A classmate of his, Ron Leininger, had pushed York to apply. When he declined to nominate himself, Leininger urged Janice York to nominate her husband.
“I just didn’t feel right putting it in myself so they took it on their part to get it done,” York said.
Leininger previously nominated another classmate, Gary W. Gross, a 2019 Ohio Military Hall of Fame for Valor inductee. Gross died in Vietnam while traveling in a small convoy through enemy territory on Dec. 16, 1968.
The real heroes were the ones like Gross who didn’t make it home, York said.
While he encountered hostility to his service after returning to the United States, York said, attitudes have shifted greatly in recent years. He now receives lots of thanks for his service and has had strangers pay for his meals in restaurants.
“It’s an honor to protect our country,” said York, who has worn a Vietnam veteran hat for the past 10 to 15 years. “It felt right doing it. That’s what we needed to do.”
York’s family has many connections to the military.
His father, Edward C. York, served aboard the USS New Jersey during World War II and then was a drill sergeant during the Korean War. His father-in-law, William W. Hurley, was part of the Red Ball Express truck convoy system in World War II and also received a Bronze Star.
His sister, Marlene Ritter, was in the Army, and his daughter, Tamara Lynn Toney, was in the Navy. His grandson Timothy Toney graduated this month from advanced individual training at Fort Benning in Georgia and has begun airborne school. He also has nephews who have served in the Army.
Prior to enlisting in the Navy, York actually was drafted into the Army, receiving his draft notice on a Friday. The following Monday he signed up for the Navy.
“There was two things I didn’t want to do,” York said. “I didn’t want to see combat, and I didn’t want to be in a foxhole. And I ended up doing both.”
For more information about the Ohio Military Hall of Fame for Valor, visit www.ohioheroes.org.
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-538-4824.