By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
It was the moment Ted Montuori waited 45 years to see.
Montuori, a Vietnam War veteran from Bay Ridge, was staring at the Combat Action Ribbon that U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm was about to present him Wednesday morning. “This is very important to me,” he told Grimm as the two men stood in the congressman’s district office in Dyker Heights.
Grimm (R-C-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Staten Island), himself a U.S. Marine veteran, was also presenting Montuori with two medals: the Vietnam Service Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.
But to Montuori, a U.S. Navy veteran, the Combat Action Ribbon, which military veterans call a CAR, was the most important accolade because it carried with it an acknowledgement that he had served his country in combat.
Montuori did two tours of duty in Vietnam between 1966 and 1969, and earned the two medals and the CAR, but a paperwork mix-up prevented him from receiving the honors he had rightly earned, according to Grimm.
The medals were not listed on Montuori’s Navy discharge papers and so he was not awarded them, Grimm said.
Montuori recently reached out to Grimm’s office and the congressman cut through the red tape at the Department of Defense (DOD) to get the medals and the ribbon for him.
And so after waiting patiently for 45 years for his government to officially recognize his bravery in wartime, Montuori was finally staring at the CAR he had rightfully earned. “It means everything to me,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle.
Grimm’s staff contacted him a few weeks ago with the good news; that the DOD had straightened out the mix-up and the medals were being prepared. Grimm wanted to present the medals to Montuori personally. The two men met in Grimm’s office on Wednesday.
Grimm said he understood why the CAR would have deep meaning for Montuori. “We honor all of our veterans who have served our country. But not everybody serves in combat,” he told the Eagle.
Grimm’s aides had placed the two medals and the CAR on a congressional citation folder so that they would make a more attractive presentation for the veteran.
Montuori is a member of the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Unfortunately for America’s military veterans, situations like the one Montuori faced are not uncommon, according to Grimm, who blamed it on the fog of war. “You get transferred so often and a lot of the time the fact that you earned a medal doesn’t get listed on your paperwork,” he said.
“It happened to me. It took me nine years to get what I had earned,” said Grimm, a veteran of the first Gulf War in 1991.
In addition to the medals and the ribbon, Grimm got the DOD to correct Montuori’s discharge papers. He presented the documents to the veteran.
Montuori was a Navy Seabee. The name is a variation of the initials CB, which stand for Construction Battalion. The Seabees are known for building bases, airstrips and other important facilities during wartime.
“They build it while being shot at!” Grimm said.
“You are a hero,” Grimm told Montuori. Acknowledging that the medals and ribbon were “long overdue,” the congressman shook the veteran’s hand and said, “Welcome home, brother.”