Army Veteran's Heroism Recognized
By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 6, 1998 It's a long way from the jungles of Vietnam to the Pentagon's "Hall of Heroes." And it's been almost 30 years since events led Roy Judkins from one to the other.
The former Army specialist made the journey recently to receive long overdue recognition. During a Feb. 2 Pentagon ceremony, Judkins received the Distinguished Service Cross for heroism in Vietnam from Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman. The decoration is the nation's second highest award.
The transient nature his duties, combined with the confusion which often exists in a combat zone, meant that Judkins' paperwork for the award was lost, if it even got submitted at all.
Judkins is credited with "extraordinary heroism" for actions in early December 1968 while serving as an ordnance expert with the 184th Ordnance Battalion. During that month, he was called to the operating room of an Army field hospital to assist in some unusual surgery. His mission: remove a live 40mm grenade embedded in the body of a badly wounded soldier.
In what Shelton described as a "shining example of America at its best," not only did Judkins successfully complete that mission, he repeated it a few days later, removing a grenade from the body of yet another soldier. During this same time period, he is credited with extracting a fellow soldier from a minefield while under enemy fire.
"In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah recounts, 'And I have heard the voice of the Lord say, whom shall we send and who will go with us? And he responded, here I am Lord, send me. Here I am Lord, send me,'" Shelton said.
"That spirit is alive and well today because American heroes like Roy Judkins help keep it alive, and in each generation they inspire us to do our best," he continued. "I'm really sorry it took so long for this day to arrive, and I'm deeply grateful for the chance to stand here today and simply say 'Thank you.'"
Judkins said he was deeply humbled and somewhat speechless after receiving the award.
"How about that?" he beamed upon reaching the podium, much to the delight of friends and family members gathered in the hall. But he was also relaxed enough to display his sense of humor.
"At one time I planned to become an astronomer and study the stars," Judkins told the audience. "Well, I don't have to worry about that anymore. We've got more stars in here than we got in the sky," he quipped, referring to the many general officers who attended the ceremony.
Following the ceremony, Judkins said he was still "this high off the ground," raising his hand about three feet, and "tickled to death" Gen. Shelton wanted to personally present the award.
Now 54, Judkins doesn't recall being particularly scared when he was asked to remove grenades from the two patients.
"It had to be done if the patients were going to have a chance to live," he said. "And we couldn't risk having a surgeon blowing his hands off."
Judkins is as nonchalant about his heroism as he is about having to wait almost 30 years to be recognized.
"You did your job and if you weren't hurt, you moved on to the next ordnance problem," he said. "Also, because we were often attached to other units who needed our help, it wouldn't have been unusual for paperwork to get lost, even if somebody had put me in for the award."
Eventually, friends, colleagues and those who still remembered his acts helped document the events and got the award process moving.
Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, himself a victim of a grenade explosion while serving in Vietnam, was one of them. Indeed, Judkins and Cleland served in Vietnam at the same time.
"He's a great American, and I'm glad to be on his team," Cleland said of Judkins. "I was glad to help in any way I could." Georgia Rep. Charlie Norwood, another Vietnam veteran, and his wife, Gloria, were also on hand to congratulate Judkins.
Following Vietnam, Judkins continued serving in the Army until 1978, when back and neck injuries forced him to retire. Among his other awards, Judkins has received the Bronze Star Medal with valor device and first oak leaf cluster, and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm. He and his wife, Betty, live in Lincolnton, Ga.