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47 years later, Navy officer’s family accepts Purple Heart

Navy Commander Melvin Lederman was killed in the line of duty in 1969.
Navy Commander Melvin Lederman was killed in the line of duty in 1969.handout

After nearly 50 years of fighting to get his record corrected, the family of a Navy commander finally accepted a Purple Heart on his behalf in Brookline on Monday for his efforts saving lives in Vietnam.

Commander Melvin Lederman was killed in action alongside five Marines and one sailor on Nov. 29, 1969, when the rescue helicopter he was riding in exploded in flight, according to Bill McGroarty, director of Veterans’ Services in Brookline. Lederman was 41 years old.

The incident was initially listed as a mechanical failure, and the seven deceased servicemen were not awarded Purple Hearts, McGroarty said.

However, an investigation of wreckage revealed the aircraft had crashed after it was struck by hostile gunfire. The records of the five Marines were adjusted to “Killed In Action” and they were awarded Purple Hearts, but the records of Lederman and Naval Corpsman James M. Garrett were not, according to McGroarty.

Martin Lederman, Melvin Lederman’s 82-year-old brother and a Korean War veteran, said his family spent the next 47 years working to correct the mistake and get his brother his Purple Heart.

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Martin Lederman said he and his family finally met success after going to the office of US Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III. The records were corrected and a Purple Heart was issued within 10 months.

Kennedy, the town of Brookline, the Stephen F. Rutledge Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 864, and American Legion Post 11 presented the family with the Purple Heart Monday morning at Brookline Town Hall. The medal was Lederman’s fourth Purple Heart, his brother said. Kennedy also presented a Gold Star Lapel Pin to Martin Lederman and the family on the commander’s behalf.

“This pin should have been with your family decades ago, but through your patience and perseverance I know how much it means to you today,” Kennedy said during the ceremony.

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Lederman added that his brother, who had master’s degrees from both Yale University and the University of Michigan, was a surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital before deciding to join the Navy.

Melvin Lederman had been stationed on a hospital ship and noticed that many of the wounded Marines who were transported by copter back to the ship often did not survive.

“He was complaining. . . . He had written to me that kids were bleeding to death,” Martin Lederman said.

Melvin Lederman then began accompanying the Navy personnel on missions to provide more immediate medical attention for the wounded.

Lederman was on his last mission before he was expected to come home when his helicopter was shot down, 76-year-old Henrietta Lederman, Martin’s wife, said.

Six months after Lederman’s death, his family got a letter from another officer who was onboard the same hospital ship.

The officer, who had addressed the letter to Lederman’s parents, wrote that their son was recommended for the Silver Star medal, the United States’ third-highest award for military valor, before the incident.

“I knew your son and I admired and respected him,” the letter said. “His death was a great loss to the US Navy and to the United States.”

Martin Lederman said the family is working with McGroarty and Kennedy on getting his brother the Silver Star.


Lauren Fox can be reached at lauren.fox@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurenbfox.