KAILUA-KONA — A smile stretched across Edward “Eki” Robert Yandall’s face as friends and family stood and clapped for him while he descended steps into the pavilion at Kona Vista Recreation Center Sunday afternoon.
Yandall, dressed in his army uniform, thought he was there to speak to a community group for veterans about his 20 years in the military service. He soon learned the gathering was a ceremony to award him the Purple Heart, 50 years after an injury he suffered while serving in Vietnam.
“He’s a war hero,” said Susan Yandall, Eki’s daughter-in-law. “The criteria of the Purple Heart, he did it all.”
On Feb. 4, 1968, Eki ran from his tent to the center of the army camp where a large gong hung and beat it as long and loud as he could to alert the troops of incoming enemy attack. While running to his foxhole under fire, he fell over a spike and landed on his head.
Eki was later diagnosed with a neck fracture, an injury he would suffer from for the rest of his life.
On Sunday, 92-year-old Eki was presented a congressional award from the office of Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and an honorary certificate from the Hawaii State Legislature from Sen. Michael Gabbard.
“The Purple Heart is not something small,” Sen. Gabbard told the crowd.
On behalf of the Hawaii State Legislature, Sen. Gabbard thanked Eki for his service during the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam as well as a lifetime of dedication to the military.
“Today, 50 years belated, the nation, your family and friends salute you. Malo lava,” he said.
Since he was told to prepare a speech about his life in the military, Eki was ready to tell the crowd about his service. Originally from American Samoa, Eki forged his mom’s signature at age 16 in an attempt to enlist in the Samoan Marines.
His plans were thwarted when his mother found out.
In June of 1951, Eki enlisted in the U.S. Army and entered basic training in Hawaii. Eki was Operations Sergeant of the Transportation Battalion when he was injured.
Eki said he knew the commendation was a long time coming. He had applied for the award after leaving Vietnam, however he never received it and let it go.
“It means the world to me,” he said Sunday.
Throughout his career, Eki was spared from deadly conflicts for various reasons.
“Everywhere I go I prayed. That’s why I’m here,” he said. “My wife and I prayed every night.”
Bill Armer, a fellow Purple Heart recipient, received his award while wounded in a hospital.
“It’s very unusual to go 50 years without combat decoration,” Armer said.
Armer added he’s proud of all the medals he’s received during his time in the service.
“You look at his uniform, his demeanor – you know he’s proud of it,” Armer said of Eki.
Mika Yandall, Eki’s son, said it took a lot of time and effort to get the commendation. Since there seemed to be no paper trail of Eki’s injury in Vietnam, the 92-year-old man hadn’t received the award.
Mika said Cmdr. Brian F. Wilson, USN (ret.) was instrumental in talking to the right people to make the award happen.
“I like to see justice done even if it’s 50 years late,” Wilson said.
Wilson said he was at Mika’s house when Eki mentioned to him he had not received the Purple Heart. Wilson asked him to tell him his story.
Wilson reached out to his military contacts, which got the ball rolling. Mika said hospital records were eventually recovered.
Eki’s son, Chaz Yandall, flew in from Colorado to watch him receive the award Sunday.
“I often wondered why he didn’t have the Purple Heart,” Chaz said.
Chaz added that his father is an exemplary member of society.
“Our country needs a resurgence of men like him,” he said.
Eki was married to his sweetheart Patricia Helsham for 62 years before she died in 2009. They had seven children, 16 grandchildren, 20 adopted grandchildren and 22 great grandchildren.