Stephen Dufeck went through most of his adult life with shrapnel embedded in his body after he was wounded in Vietnam. But because of paperwork errors, and the Minnesota soldier's reluctance to bother anyone, he never received the Purple Heart he was due. Until Sunday.
Months after he died from cancer and 45 years after he was injured, the medal was presented by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar to Dufeck's youngest son, Jason, while he held his own 3-week-old son, Stephen, named after the veteran.
Dufeck, raised in Stacy, Minn., died in December at 64.
"To Priv. First Class Stephen J. Dufeck for wounds received in action," on Sept. 22, 1968, read the medal's certificate signed by Secretary of War John McHugh. With his two brothers beside him, Jason Dufeck, 37, accepted the medal at a gathering of about 50 — mostly family members and friends — on the State Capitol grounds at the Minnesota Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Dufeck, who volunteered for military service in 1967 after graduating from high school, "said he had no records to prove [he had been injured] and didn't want to bother anybody," said Klobuchar, who stood near a stone wall inscribed with the names of 1,100 Vietnam Veterans from Minnesota who were killed in the 12-year war in Southeast Asia.
Dufeck was hospitalized and discharged from the military in November 1968. He married, had three sons and worked 35 years as an electrician for Anderson Windows of Bayport. Last year, after he was diagnosed with throat cancer, he finally allowed family members to pursue the medal for him, said his oldest brother, Jerry Dufeck, 68, one of 11 siblings.
About that time, family members were clearing out the home of their deceased parents and came across a metal box with the missing proof. "It was a telegram from the Army Adjutant General reporting he was injured," said Jerry Dufeck, of Shoreview.
The family contacted Klobuchar's office, which helped obtain the long overdue commendation, he said.
"He served honorably and lived the best he could with the aftermath, with no griping and no self pity," Jerry Dufeck said.
He said his brother, nicknamed Dewey, returned home with an edge and was a restless, very sensitive person who seemed most relaxed among other veterans with whom he socialized.
The Purple Heart, the country's oldest military medal still awarded, was established by Gen. George Washington in 1782, U.S. Army Reserve Brigadier General Arlan DeBlieck told the group. He noted that Dufeck was wounded during the Tet Offensive in 1968, the bloodiest year of the war, when Communists troops pressed into South Vietnam.
"We thank him for his generosity and the great patriotism he has shown," DeBlieck said. □