Vietnam War veteran receiving Silver Star 47 years later

SAN DIEGO - Decades after courageous action on the battlefield in Vietnam, a local man will be given one of the military's highest honors next week.

It was 1967, and Marine Corps Pfc. Joe Cordileone had recently arrived in Vietnam and would soon show his courage and dedication to duty.

His platoon was ordered to take Hill 881 South near Khe Sanh, not knowing the North Vietnamese army would ambush them in the heavy jungle.

"They let us pass a number of their hidden spider trap-type bunkers so that we were surrounded when they started firing. I was a 19-year-old kid; this was my first firefight. I was scared to death," said Cordileone.

A mortar round hit, and he and three others tried to save their wounded, unconscious commander.

"And the very moment we started to pick him up, another mortar round landed almost at his head and it killed him. It killed the two men who had his shoulder and it wounded me and the other Marine," Cordileone said.

Cordileone took shrapnel to the face and neck, but he kept fighting and kept trying to help fellow Marines.

"I was afraid I was going to die. I believed I was going to die, but there was one thing greater than my fear of death and it's something every other Marine who's been in combat … Every one of us would rather die than let down the Marine next to us," said Cordileone.

Bullets flying, mortar shells exploding, it was a kill zone.

"Any movement ... if you were standing up you were going to get hit. Three different times that day, when two of us would go out to recover someone, the man next to me got a bullet in the head," said Cordileone.

For his courage under fire, Cordileone will be presented with Silver Star -- 47 years later because those who witnessed it finally had their voices heard.

"I'm honored that my friends, men who fought with me and saw me, they thought it was exceptional and what they think means a great deal to me," Cordileone said.

He's also thrilled for another man coming to the ceremony.

"Bobby Moffat, who's getting a Bronze Star, who did do something brave; I watched him," said Cordileone.

Five bullets had taken out a machine gunner and someone had to step in -- Moffatt.

"Bobby got up and took that gun and he got a round in the head," Cordileone said.

Ray Calhoun was there, too. He was presented his Silver Star in 2009, and he is grateful his friends are now being honored.

"To have him and Bobby be recognized ... is wonderful," said Calhoun.

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