Finally, after almost 40 years, Vietnam Veteran William H. "Billy" Wright Jr. has the public recognition he deserves.

Finally, after almost 40 years, Vietnam Veteran William H. "Billy" Wright Jr. has the public recognition he deserves.

"When I came home," Wright said Friday, "people didn't like you just because you'd been there (Vietnam)."

Before a ceremony held near the War Veterans Memorial at the Courthouse, the 59-year-old Anderson County resident said, "This means a lot. I just now feel like I really deserve it."

Wright earned a Bronze Star recognition as a result of his actions in combat in Vietnam on April 12, 1970. However, he never received the actual medal from the federal government -- until about a month ago.

Last week, the long-awaited medal was presented formally, along with a citation from the federal government and a display case of Wright's other military awards.

"I'm so proud of him. It's been a long time coming," said Wright's older sister, Margaret Bunch. "It should have happened when he came home, but back then, they didn't recognize veterans like they do today."

Melinda, Billy Wright's wife of 25 years, said she's thrilled for him.

"We looked through his service records and realized he had been 'awarded' a Bronze Star then ... but he'd never received it," Melinda Wright said.

Billy Wright received help from Anderson County Veterans Service Officer Leon Jaquet and U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., his wife said. Billy Wright served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a machine gunner with Company C, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division.

"On April 12, 1970, while conducting a combat patrol in Quang Nam Province, a squad from Company C came under a heavy volume of small arms, machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire from North Vietnamese Army soldiers occupying well-concealed emplacements," according to the Marines' citation read during the Oct. 30 ceremony in Clinton.

"Reacting instantly, Private First Class Wright braved the hostile fusillade as he rushed to the point of heaviest contact and commenced delivering devastating machine gun fire at suspected enemy positions, thereby enabling his companions to deploy to more effective fighting locations.

"Although he thus became the target for concentrated enemy fire, Pfc. Wright resolutely maintained his dangerously exposed position until he and his companions had forced the North Vietnamese Army soldiers to retreat.

"Pfc. Wright's courage, bold initiative and steadfast devotion to duty at great personal risk were instrumental in the defeat of a numerically superior enemy force and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the U.S. Naval Service," the citation concluded.

Billy Wright was surrounded by family and friends as he received the citation and was presented with the Bronze Star by Anderson County Mayor Rex Lynch.

"It's a shame it's taken our country so long to do this," Lynch said. "On behalf of Anderson County, we're honored for your service and what you've done for our country."

USMC Sgt. Todd Garris, a Marine recruiter in Oak Ridge, stood at attention by Billy Wright's side during the reading of the citation and presentation of his commendations, which included the Bronze Star Medal w/Combat "V”, Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Medal, Meritorious Unit Citation Ribbon, Vietnam Service Medal with four Bronze Stars, Vietnam Campaign Medal,  Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation Ribbon w/Gallantry Cross, Republic of Vietnam Civil Unit Citation, and the Marksman Rifle Badge.

Oak Ridger writer Leean Tupper can be contacted at (865) 220-5501.