AUGUSTA, Ga.-- For 44 years Shelby Harding has held onto a case with her late-husband's Army and foreign medals, but with one exception; a blank space where a missing award should be.
During that time Shelby had always felt her late-husband, Steve Harding, should have received the Army's Combat Infantrymen Badge for his actions during the Vietnam War.
"I always knew in my heart that Steve was deserving of the award but I never received the orders for it," Shelby said.
Steve died April 26, 1968 in the Quang Tri Province of Vietnam. Shelby received his awards and decorations during two separate ceremonies in 1968 and 1969 and at the time inquired to the whereabouts of the missing medal.
"During the presentation of the awards in 1969, I asked about the CIB and the response I received was 'what, you want more lady?," Shelby added.
It wasn't until 2011 that someone offered to help Shelby. Her niece's husband searched months to find information on Steve's CIB but to no avail.
The following year Capt. Kyle Hatzinger, commander of D Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, made contact with Shelby after learning about Steve while sponsoring a reunion for Company D. in Branson, Mo., April 2012.
"I sent Shelby a letter to simply introduce myself and let her know she is part of the Company D family," Hatzinger said. "At the time, I had no idea Shelby had been looking for her husband's missing award."
A month later, Shelby asked Hatzinger for help.
"I was pleased to help her but had no idea where to start," he added. "I turned to a colleague in administration and she pointed me to two different military records agencies."
For more than a month Hatzinger worked with the U.S. Army Human Resources Command and the National Personnel Records Center-Military Records finding information on Steve and his assignments in Vietnam.
"After about a month of research I received a call from an HRC employee who'd been working on Steve's records," Hatzinger said. "He conveyed to me that once a file on Steve was found he opened it up to find CIB orders dated 1968."
Hatzinger said he was excited and relieved to receive the information, despite no explanation why orders existed without the award ever being presented.
"I was fortunate for the help I received from personnel at HRC and the NPRC," added Hatzinger. "At the same time, I was excited and relieved that we could help Shelby and allow her some closure."
"I was pleased and excited that after all these years, I was able to receive Steve's award, one I knew he deserved for service to the country," Shelby said. "I needed that closure."
Hatzinger said once the award was collected, he wanted to ensure Shelby received it in a customary fashion.
"I know she would have been happy receiving the award with a handshake and kind words, but I wanted to make sure it was presented in a meaningful and traditional way," Hatzinger added.
Hatzinger arranged to have a grave-side, award ceremony in Augusta, Ga., Sept. 1, which he and his wife attended along with four veterans who served with Steve, some of their spouses and 10 of Shelby's family members.
The hour-long ceremony included the CIB presentation, a speech from three of Steve's brothers-in-arms, a final roll call and a commemorative plaque given by Ralph Dahl from Cailf. -- one of Steve's former platoon members, said Hatzinger. Additionally, Dahl's wife presented Shelby with a hand-made guidon, a D Co. Flag.
"It was a somber but wonderful time, not a dry eye in the crowd," Shelby said of the ceremony. She was inspired by the speeches, and amazed that Hatzinger and the men who fought by her husband's side would travel from around the U.S. to pay their last respects to Steve.
"There was a lot of sadness during the reading of the eulogies but Shelby cherishes her memories and deserved time to reflect on her husband's achievements … I was impressed by her strength," Hatzinger said.
With the CIB properly resting in Shelby's case she commented, "We have done what needs to be done. I will always have my memories and at 75-years-old, my life is complete."