Alvin Alce awarded Purple Heart — 53 years after combat injuries

The “wrongs of the past were righted” on Monday morning, when Key West native Alvin Alce received his Purple Heart from the U.S. Army — 53 years after he was injured in combat in the Vietnam War.

Cathy Crane, director of the local Veterans Affairs office, learned in 2019 that Alce had never received the Purple Heart he deserved after being injured in May 1969 in the deadly Battle of Hamburger Hill.

“In the end, there were more than 400 U.S. casualties. Platoons of more than 40 men were down to 15 to 20 men at the end of the battle. Of the 20 platoon leaders present on the first day, only four were still standing on the last,” Brigadier General William Mason III (retired) told the standing-room only crowd Monday at the Harvey Government Center in Key West. “Among all of America’s military awards, the Purple Heart is perhaps the most solemn because it signifies personal sacrifice and individual loss suffered for the good of others.”

Army Specialist Alvin Alce in Vietnam in 1968. CONTRIBUTED

Alce’s son, Justin, also spoke at Monday’s ceremony, recalling how, “as a kid, I used to count the notches from your bullet stitches.

“Walking point in Vietnam was your college experience,” Justin Alce told his father. “You are my favorite point man, Dad.”

Justin Alce then read his father’s favorite poem, “If—,” by Rudyard Kipling, which ends, “If you can fill the unforgiving minute / With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, / Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, / And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son.”

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.