When Thomas Giorgi returned to the States after serving as a Private First Class in the Army during the Vietnam War, there was no ticker tape parade for him and his fellow soldiers. And there was no one to laud his unique bravery on Sunday, July 3, 1966 near Vietnam's eastern border with Cambodia.
But that oversight was corrected when Congresswoman Nta Lowey presented Giorgi, a Port Chester native who has lived in Rye Brook for the past 23 years, with a well-deserved honor forty-six years in the making.
"I was very moved when I heard of Thomas Giorgi's heroic actions on July 3, 1966" said Lowey. "His selfless act is a reminder of the immense sacrifices made by our veterans to defend this country, and I was honored to help him obtain the recognition he's deserved for almost fifty years."
With Barbara- his wife of 42 years, his two sons Todd and Scott as well as other family members looking on, Giorgi received a Silver Star, the third highest miltary combat honor that can bestowed 'for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States' from Congresswoman Nita Lowey.
But so many years ago, when Giorgi returned from the battlefield, there was no celebration. Giorgi got back to civilian life, married his wife of 42 years Barbara and raised two sons- Todd and Scott. He became a paramedic in Harlem and moved to Rye Brook in 1983.
And if it weren't for a veterans' reunion where he reconnected with his Army company's executive officer Thomas C. Barron of Manhattan, Giorgi's bravery that Sunday in Vietnam so many years ago might never have come to light again.
Barron said when he reconnected with Giorgi some forty years later at a company reunion as well as two other men who were present on July 3, "I began putting it together and realizing recognition was completely appropriate."
What it was that day was an ambush. Giorgi and 17 other members of his squad- the Army 25th Infantry Division- were engaged by more than 200 enemy soldiers at a deserted enemy base camp near the Cambodian border. Those enemy soldiers came at Giorgi and his squad with automatic weapons, mortars, grenade launchers and light anti-tank weapons.
Staff Sgt. Gilberto Garcia was one of the men shot during the gunfight. Giorgi ventured 20 yards into a clearing to retrieve a shotgun that he used to protect Garcia until a medic arrived and during the ultimately futile efforts of that medic to save Garcia. Both men were killed and Giorgi was critically wounded. He convalesced for months back in the United States, grateful for his family's support and care.
Though he received two Purple Hearts, it wasn't until Barron found other servicemen who could affirm the events of that day that the real measure of Giorgi's valor could be told and acknowledged, that he protected his fellow soldiers for nearly three hours with only a shotgun despite the certain threat of bodily harm to himself.
Barron was nearly overcome with emotion himself thinking about all it had taken to bring about the Silver Star recognition for Giorgi so many years later.
"I'm delighted," said Barron as he watched Giorgi receive the attention of the press and the admiration of his family so many years later.
"It probably means more now. I'm certain it means more now, that he has his family with him," said Barron.
"I never thought it was going to happen, because it happened so long ago," said Giorgi. "Getting this, it just lifted me right up off the ground."
"I'm just elated. I don't want to sound corny, but I don't just wear this for myself, I wear this for the 20 men that got killed on July the 3rd."
Giorgi's youngest son Todd had nothing but admiration and respect for his father's heroism in Vietnam. "I knew of the story, but not to this level [that he would receive the Silver Star]," said Todd. "He was always very proud to serve his country."
And now his country is proud to honor him.