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Gillibrand gives Navy Cross to vet killed in Vietnam

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (l.) hands military honors to the family of a Long Island soldier who was killed in Vietnam during an event at the Rosen Center. Photo by Howard Koplowitz
TimesLedger Newspapers

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) visited North Shore-LIJ’s Rosen Family Wellness Center on Veterans Day to give the family of a Vietnam soldier killed on the battlefield 45 years ago military honors he was due but never received until now.

Vietnam veteran Tony Schiozzi visited the Patchogue cemetery where Marine Lance Cpl. Richard Kaler is buried and noticed Kaler’s headstone made no mention that Kaler received the Navy Cross — the highest decoration bestowed by the U.S. Navy for heroism during the act of duty in the presence of great danger or at great personal risk.

Kaler, 22, was fighting in a military operation near the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone in 1966 and died when Vietnamese troops charged at his platoon with machine guns.

Kaler’s family was presented with the Purple Heart in 1966, but had not received the Navy Cross.

“Mr. Kaler and his family deserve all the recognition that was earned in the line of duty,” Gillibrand said. “It’s important that we honor his legacy, which was long overdue.”

The Rosen Center, near North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, L.I., provides no-cost psychological assistance to veterans, current military members and their families.

“This center is such a leading organization on behalf of veterans,” the senator said. “They are services that our veterans so much deserve.”

Kaler’s nephew, Bob Kaler, said the presentation of the Navy Cross and other military honors that were presented to the family 50 years after his uncle’s death “kind of takes your breath away.

“I heard stories about my uncle. He was apparently larger than life,” Kaler said.

Elva English, Kaler’s sister-in-law, was the only member of Kaler’s family at the at Friday’s event who knew him.

“He was a Marine in his heart from the day he was born,” she said. “He was captain of the football team. He did wrestling. He did everything.”

She said it was a “great feeling” for Kaler to finally get the honors he was entitled to.

“I’m glad that it did happen, that someone paid attention,” English said. “He died trying to save his unit.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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