Long Island, NY – Forty-five years after a Long Island marine died in combat in Vietnam, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, successfully secured long overdue posthumous medals for the family of Lance Corporal Richard Kaler. Standing at the North Shore LIJ Health System’s Rosen Family Wellness Center, Senator Gillibrand and State Senator Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) presented the soldier’s family with the following medals on Veteran’s Day:
- Navy Cross
- Purple Heart
- Presidential Unit Citation w/Bronze Star
- Navy Unit Commendation
- Good Conduct Medal
- National Defense Service Medal
- Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
- Vietnam Service Medal w/Three Bronze Campaign Stars
Senator Gillibrand said, “This is a long overdue tribute for Lance Cpl. Richard Kaler. I am honored to stand with his family in remembering a man who proudly wore the uniform of his country and courageously made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. The medals honoring this brave soldier can be passed on to future generations of the Kaler family.”
Robert Kaler of Bayport, 45, Lance Cpl. Kaler’s nephew said, “Our family appreciates beyond words Senator Gillibrand’s efforts in securing these medals of honor for our uncle, Richard David Kaler. My Uncle was a real American hero, the very embodiment of our men and women in our Armed Services who risk their lives every day for our freedom. Uncle Richie wrote in his high school yearbook, ‘I am strong as a bull moose,’ and he truly was. He died as he lived – with courage, loyalty, and selflessness.”
As part of his research of local veterans’ awards and citations, Vietnam-era veteran Tony Schiozzi visited Kaler’s grave in Patchogue’s Cedar Grove Cemetery and discovered that that the marine’s headstone noted the Purple Heart but omitted the Navy Cross, which is the Navy’s highest decoration. Earlier this month, Kaler family installed a new headstone provided by the Veterans Affairs Department that accurately noted the soldier’s Navy Cross honor.
State Sen. Zeldin notified Senator Gillibrand’s office that the family sought the Purple Heart and Navy Cross in memory of the fallen soldier. Senator Gillibrand immediately worked with Veterans Affairs Department to secure the medals honoring Lance Cpl. Kaler.
Lance Cpl. Kaler’s Navy Cross citation states that in 1966, the veteran fought in Operation Hastings, a military operation near the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone. According to the citation, Kaler subjected himself to intense fire and charged enemy positions when machine guns aimed the rest of his platoon. The citation noted that Kaler was shot, continued fighting, and was shot again and mortally wounded. Kaler died at the age of 22, four years after graduating Patchogue High School.