Lepanto man helps Memphis vet become reunited with war medals

Williams' Purple Heart
Williams' Purple Heart
Laden and Williams walking into ceremony
Laden and Williams walking into ceremony

LEPANTO, AR (KAIT) - A Vietnam veteran who was wounded in action had his two service medals returned to him in a special ceremony Monday night at the Lepanto American Legion.

"I'm overwhelmed...I've cried," Veteran Don Williams told Region 8 News. "I've been trying to figure out what to say to these people...I don't know. 'Thank you' just doesn't seem like it's enough to me. It pales in comparison to what they've done."

In a room full of veterans, Lepanto Mayor, Steve Jernigan handed back the medals Williams had been without for years.

Shot six times in Vietnam and told he would never walk again, The Purple Heart and Bronze Star medals Williams received were placed in storage. However, after the death of his mother, Williams said he fell on hard times and was unable to keep up with the payments for the storage unit.

"I've had 'em about four years," Lepanto resident, Ricky Laden told Region 8 News. "I've babied them and I've always wanted to find Mr. Williams," Laden said.

Laden explained that his brother purchased William's delinquent mini-storage unit years ago. When his brother was going through the contents, he found the medals and gave them to him as he knew Laden collected medals.

However, instead of keeping them, Laden has spent that time working to find Williams.

Williams said he's surprised he got the medals back, as Laden could have easily thrown them away.

"I had three brothers in Vietnam at the same time, that just wasn't gonna happen," Laden said. "One way or the other, we was gonna find him or his family was gonna get found and we just happened to find the right person at the right time."

Williams told Region 8 News those like Laden and Mayor Jernigan who have helped him become reunited with his medals have become his extended family. It's an event Williams explained his mother foresaw happening prior to her passing.

"She was telling me, you need to find out who your extended family is...now isn't that odd? Here we are. So God is in this," Williams said.

Though he said he's received thousands of calls from across the country over the past week, thanking him for his service, Williams extended his thanks to someone else during his acceptance speech.

"You've been telling me since I got here that I'm your hero? You're my hero," Williams directed toward Laden. "Today, you're my hero. Because you didn't have to do it."

Though they can't be certain, Williams and Laden explained that they might've met before Monday.

Laden told Region 8 News that his brother was at the VA Hospital in Memphis last year at the same times Williams was volunteering there. They said they could've easily crossed paths multiple times and not even known.

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