Vietnam vet  gets medals for refugee rescue

Dave Leopold, of Absecon, finally received his military medals for participating in the U.S. Navy’s Operation Frequent Wind in April 1975, helping evacuate thousands of Vietnamese refugees as Saigon was about to fall to the Vietcong.

Dave Leopold, of Absecon, has run Travel With Dave for 26 years, taking groups on trips around the region, the U.S. and the world.

But one of his first foreign adventures was off the coast of Vietnam, after enlisting in the Navy right out of Pleasantville High School's Class of 1973. He was part of Operation Frequent Wind, helping evacuate thousands of Vietnamese refugees from April 29 to April 30,1975, as Saigon was about to fall to the Vietcong.

Leopold was aboard the USS Rowan, a destroyer, guarding the aircraft carrier USS Midway as it took on refugees brought in by helicopter and boats, he said. They were among 50 Navy ships that participated.

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"The North was attacking and I could see bombs going off," Leopold remembered.

Leopold recently received the medals he should have gotten 40 years ago, he said, with the help of Congressman Frank LoBiondo. They are the Armed Forces Expeditionary Service Medal, Meritorious Unit Commendation Ribbon and the Humanitarian Service Medal.

"Initially, I didn't care. I wanted to get out and start working," he said. "Then years went on. And I kept reading about Iraq vets. Vietnam vets always had a bad rap."

So Leopold wrote to the military archives to see about finally getting his medals. Nothing happened for almost a year, until LoBiondo got involved, he said.

His next big trip is to National Parks in Utah such as Canyonlands and Bryce Canyon in October, he said. Call 609-646-1195 or visit

Late honor

Army Sgt. 1st Class Gary L. Surrency's winter hometown of Jacksonville, Fla., recently honored the part-time Woodbine resident for the rescue of a child from a burning building at Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C., in 1978.

Surrency's wife, Millie Surrency, began a campaign in 1994 to have his actions recognized with the Army's Soldier's Medal for conspicuous valor in a noncombat situation, which he had been nominated for in 1978 but never received. He finally got it in December 2010.

Special kiss

Rich Sanguinetti, of North Wildwood, a fan of the late actor James Gandolfini, remembered meeting the Sopranos star on Sanguinetti's 50th birthday a few years ago at a Resorts Hotel Casino event.

"I told him it was my birthday, and he gave me a kiss on the side of my head," Sanguinetti said. "I never missed anything he did, including when he hosted an HBO special about wounded soldiers."

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