Nov. 10 was a very special day for Tracy Wickwire: He finally received five of the medals he’d earned during two tours of duty in Vietnam, presented by U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley at the Portland Airport USO. There to celebrate with him were his wife Patty, son Nick and partner Della, and crewmate Steve Pringle.
Wickwire joined the Navy at 17. His missions included Operation Eagle Pull and Operation Frequent Wind in 1975, and he saved cargo on the USS San Bernardino during a typhoon in 1978. He was presented the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal and Navy Good Conduct Medal during the ceremony, and Pringle surprised him with the flag that flew on the USS San Bernardino in the typhoon.
“He gave it to me to take home,” Wickwire said, adding he’d only recently learned Pringle had the flag. “When we unrolled it, you could see the tattered ends.”
Wickwire has known for years that he’d earned medals for his service. But receiving them proved difficult.
“It seems like nobody could find a record of [my service],” Wickwire said. “I’ve approached other people in the past, even politicians or people in the political world for help. I’ve never really ever had any response, even with VSOs [veterans service officers] in the past.”
He felt forgotten.
Then Wickwire reached out to Merkley. “I knew that Jeff Merkley cared about veterans; I’ve watched him over the years, he’s been in there a long time.”
Merkley’s Veterans and Military Constituent Service representative promptly responded. “She contacted me within a couple of days, and she said, ‘Sen. Merkley wants me to look into that,’” Wickwire said.
And she did. Wickwire ended up with seven medals in total, two of which were sent to his home prior to the Nov. 10 presentation.
Merkley has always had someone who works specifically with veterans on staff to address issues they face. It can be a tedious process for veterans to attempt alone because of the documentation required, which can be hard to find.
“The challenge is finding out the veteran’s unique needs and service story, and what paths to take that best fits their service,” said Oregon Press Secretary Molly Prescott, Office of U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley. “It boils down to finding the right records and connect to the medals department of the correct branch of the military.”
“I want to encourage any veterans who have issues with benefits, who have issues related to healthcare, who have lost their medals or never received them, to contact my team,” Merkley said. Veterans can reach out on Merkley’s website, merkley.senate.gov/connect/contact, or call the Portland office at 503-326-3386.