Each Thought the Other Died in War. 47 Years Later, a Miracle
Herman Johnson and Fred Rivera reunited, and much more
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 1, 2016 5:26 PM CDT
A Vietnam Veteran speaks to a member of the media as they are reflected in the Vietnam War Memorial Wall.   (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

(Newser) – Fred Rivera believed his best friend, Herman Johnson, died in his arms after a rocket hit them during a Vietnam War firefight in 1969. "Surviving comrades of that horrid day presented me a bracelet fashioned from the leather laces of Herman’s boots," Rivera writes of what followed. "I have worn it every day since, without fail." But in reality, Johnson was airlifted out in a body bag, woke up in a "make-shift morgue" with a toe tag, recovered, and never saw Rivera again, believing him to also be dead. Nearly five decades later, an Iraq veteran went to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall to take a rubbing of Johnson's name so Rivera could hang it on his wall, next to Johnson's picture—only to discover Johnson's name wasn't there. With the help of other veterans, Johnson was found, alive and living in Michigan, Courthouse News Service reports.

But the good news wasn't over yet: Rivera, who wrote about the experience of having his best friend die in his arms in his novel, Raw Man, was dismayed to discover Johnson hadn't gotten a Purple Heart, the award given to those wounded or killed in service. He started a campaign to get him one—and was met with much resistance along the way, per CNS. His request was denied multiple times due to a lack of paperwork, even though Rivera went to much trouble to track down all the evidence he could. Finally, Rivera got a retired three-star general to advocate for Johnson, and the Army approved the Purple Heart request. During a ceremony at the Wall on July 10, Herman and Rivera will see each other for the first time in 47 years. Herman thinks he's just getting a combat pin, but—assuming he avoids the news for the next week—he'll be surprised with the Purple Heart. (This veteran got scammed, then lifted up.)