It was quite a moment on April 2, when military veteran Ralph Morgan received the Silver Star Medal for his lifesaving acts during the Vietnam War in a ceremony at the new USO Tampa Bay at Tampa International Airport.
It was quite another, however, for the Tampa Bay Lightning to host such a heroic figurehead at the Tampa Bay Times Forum this past Thursday, where he was presented with his very own Lightning jersey by vice president of fans and former 2004 Stanley Cup captain Dave Andreychuk.
“One of the coolest moments I’ve ever been a part of,” Andreychuk said. “It takes moments like that, at least for me, to put the definition of a hero into perspective.”
The date was June 4, 1971, in the midst of a terrifying firefight, when Morgan drew fire away from his platoon, holding off an enemy assault long enough so that his unit could retreat to safety and a helicopter evacuation.
An oversight regarding Morgan’s paperwork, however, prevented him from receiving his award for nearly 42 years, hence the long-awaited presentation at the airport earlier this month.
It was at that location too, where Morgan reportedly fought back tears, and listed to Senator Bill Nelson, who presented him with the award after praising the gallantry and devotion to duty that the honor represented.
The Silver Star is the military's third-highest decoration for valor, awarded specifically for gallantry in action against an enemy.
Morgan served in Vietnam in 1971 and in 1972 as a member of the 5th Special Forces Group, at a time when the Vietnam War had politically divided the country, and war veterans were sometimes mistreated when they returned home to the United States.
Of course, Morgan received a far distinct experience when he attended Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, rising to his feet to be recognized on LightningVision to the tune of raucous applause and tremendous support from a sellout crowd of 19,204 in attendance.
“I had chills up my spine, and I wasn’t even the one being honored,” Andreychuk added. “Our military pays the ultimate price, so it was truly an honor for myself and for the entire organization to do our part.”