POST FALLS - Police officer. Mayor. Loving father and husband. Veteran.
Leon Strigotte of Coeur d'Alene has been many things through the years, but Friday morning he was recognized with several medals for his service in the Vietnam War. He should have received the honors more than 40 years ago.
"I'm a little overwhelmed, I have to admit," he said. "I did not expect anything like this."
More than 60 friends, family, fellow veterans and active military personnel gathered in the Idaho National Guard Armory in Post Falls to honor Strigotte, who entered the United States Army in 1967 and was discharged as a sergeant in 1970.
During the ceremony, Strigotte received the Bronze Star, Air Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Combat Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with four bronze service stars, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation Emblem with Palm, Republic of Vietnam Civil Action Honor Medal Unit Citation First-Class, Army Expert Marksman Badge and the Army Sharpshooter Badge. These accolades join the three Purple Hearts he was previously awarded for being injured in combat.
"Sgt. Strigotte consistently manifested exemplary professionalism and initiative in obtaining outstanding results," said narrator Sgt. 1st Class Jason Titus, as Brigadier General John Goodale prepared to place the medals on Strigotte's chest. "His rapid assessment and solution of numerous problems inherent in a combat environment greatly enhanced the allied effectiveness against a determined and aggressive enemy."
Strigotte's honors were delayed because the correct paperwork was "put in, but never awarded," Strigotte said. Some had been awarded by paper but never reached him, and were only recently discovered during research.
"You just put everything in a trunk and try to go on with your life," Goodale said. "And so he opened his trunk up and found some paperwork."
Goodale, the assistant adjutant general/commander for the Idaho National Guard, presided over the ceremony. He said Strigotte's situation is rare, and that it can be a difficult process to obtain one's overdue awards. Goodale joined several other high-ranking military officials in commending Strigotte for his service and finally receiving his accolades.
"To get an opportunity to do this for an individual that deserved them years ago, it's really an honor," Goodale said. "Any of our veterans, we like to take care of them. They're serving our nation. It's the least we can do to give them the awards they appropriately earned."
Strigotte served two tours in Vietnam. He experienced many firefights and witnessed the deaths of several colleagues. After suffering severe injury from a land-mine blast that killed three of his squad members, he returned to the U.S. to recover. He requested to return to Vietnam, where he became a squad leader. He was once again severely wounded and returned to the States.
During his medal ceremony, his humble demeanor showed that he will never forget these experiences and his fallen comrades.
"I know I stand here 44 years later ... this has been overlooked, and now it's been rectified, so I appreciate it," he said. "But I also stand here because there were a lot of other people that did not come home. I'm also standing here for them."
Strigotte's wife of 42 years, Linda, stood aside with their daughter, Kim Kahler of Coeur d'Alene, as people lined up to shake Strigotte's hand. Linda, feeling proud and overwhelmed, said the honors were a long time coming and well-deserved.
"Right now I'm just trying not to cry," she said.
Kim also held back tears as she honored her dad.
"I remember all the stories about how they were treated when they came home," she said. "As an American, it makes me feel ashamed that my fellow Americans treated the soldiers that way, and I'm just so glad that they're turning around for our soldiers. Even though we don't necessarily agree with what our government is doing, we support our soldiers. And for soldiers to be recognized from a time when they were spit on, it just makes me feel proud again."