COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Faded film of the Vietnam War makes up much of the nation's collective memory of what may have been America's most unpopular war. Much of it was shot by military photographers, who risked their lives at the front to record the battles.
Air Force Staff Sgt. David Goda was a military photographer, but he didn't film the battles. His job was to take still pictures of the aftermath -- damaged buildings, prisoners, confiscated weapons, even an orphanage helped by American soldiers.
They called his job "battle assessment." Many days, Goda spent time in an office going through pictures. That's why when he was awarded commendations and medals, including a Bronze Star, he didn't think he deserved them.
"People are wounded. People have risked their lives day in and day out," Goda said. "OK, that's the same medal I get for sitting in an office."
After the war, Goda put his medals away and didn't pull them out. Until recently.
He said he had a change of heart after working as a contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan. A commander he met there heard his story and told him "you absolutely deserve them," Goda said. "You served your country in Vietnam."
Goda thought about it.
"I'm almost 80 years old," he said. "I think it's time for me to pass it on to my son, and let them know what I did over there."
In a war like Vietnam, there's no one definition of a hero. Certainly those who died for their country are. But so too are young soldiers who took pictures to document the battles.
David Goda is a patriot. You can tell by the flag he flies in front of his house, and by the time he served -- so long ago, so far away.
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