Vietnam veteran to be honored at Spark! Fishers

FISHERS,Ind. -- During the last weekend in June, the town of Fishers kicks off their biggest party.

Spark! Fishers celebrates the community and honors their freedom ahead of Independence Day.

Part of the celebration includes a tribute inside city hall to veterans. During the event, military memorabilia will be on display as recorded accounts from local veterans play.

One of those veterans is George Stavropoulos, a Navy hospital corpsman who served in Vietnam with the 1st Battalion 9th Marines--also known as "The Walking Dead."

He says he's not used to receiving honor or recognition, but it's easy to see he's more than deserving of both.

Inside George's home it won't take you long to see what he cherishes most. They are displayed front and center. There are photos of his wife, kids, grand kids and great grand kids.

Inside his study, though, in a case on the wall, you'll see a part of his past he is less likely to talk about. It's a part of his story that only few knew about for years.

"I didn’t talk much about being a veteran," says Stavropoulos. "I didn’t tell many people I was a veteran."

The case on the wall is full of medals. They tell the story themselves; even the good conduct medal which George says is still a mystery.

"If you knew anything about my background, you’d wonder how the hell that ever happened," he joked.

It hangs next to the four Purple Hearts he received in Vietnam after being wounded three different times. The last two he earned along with his Silver Star on a day that would take him out of Vietnam but never leave his mind.

"The company of 200 Marines walked into a 5,000 man u-shaped ambush," recalled Stavropoulos. "We came in by helicopter and landed right in the middle of it."

Their job was to bring out the dead and wounded. What he didn't know then was just how many that would be.

"Circling down and preparing to land near where the ambush actually took place, all I could see for quite a distance maybe 50 yards or so were dead Marines."

It became clear they were not just bringing out a few guys.

"A picture in my mind that will never go away."

He was wounded multiple times that day. He spent the rest of the year in various hospitals.

Despite what he went through in Vietnam, returning home was still difficult. He recalls the verbal and even physical abuse from war protesters, including an incident while he was being transferred to a California hospital.

"The protesters at the gates of the Marine base chose to attempt to overturn the ambulance that I was riding in. There was another Marine in the ambulance with me. They were calling us baby killers, and throwing things at the ambulance. Then they definitely made an effort to overturn it."

George said it created a bitterness inside himself, and it's the reason he rarely talked about his service.

It may also be the reason the last two years have meant so much to him. In 2017 he fulfilled a childhood dream of laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. That same year he took an honor flight with other veterans.

Now, he will be honored by his whole community, nearly 52 years after he was wounded and left Vietnam.

After leaving the military in 1969, Stavropoulos retired as a police officer in California before moving to Indiana to be closer to family. His life has been one of service, but to this day there is still one word that makes him uncomfortable.

"I don’t like the word 'hero' that much and I don’t like being called one. I feel like I was just doing my duty, doing what needed to be done. Doing the job I was trained to do."

Still, if you ask the men he served with, the streets he protected or the family he raised, a life of duty is nothing short of extraordinary.

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