Congressman Brian Higgins presented United States Army veteran Wilmer A. Olivencia with a Purple Heart and other medals earned for wounds sustained and service during the Vietnam War.
"Specialist Olivencia came home at a time when veterans did not receive the warm welcome they deserved, but today we are honored to right this wrong and extend sincere appreciation on behalf of a grateful nation," Higgins said. "He fought for his country and had to fight again to regain his health and mobility. His determination is incredible and bravery is commendable."
Born in Puerto Rico and raised in Buffalo, Olivencia left Western New York to serve in the Army as an infantryman in the 101st Airborne Division.
On Dec. 22, 1969, Olivencia moved toward a demilitarized zone as the point man, leading a patrol of more than 20 men. Suddenly, they were ambushed and he was shot in the knee and hit by grenade shrapnel. As time elapsed, he was rescued by a helicopter that was obstructed from landing due to lush jungle conditions. He was then forced to climb up a dangling ladder with his wounds. While hanging from the helicopter lifting out of the trees, Olivencia became caught on the landing gear as he was being pulled in, but ultimately was rescued and taken to a hospital.
With the severe damage to his knee and shrapnel in his face, Olivencia faced a long road to recovery. He underwent surgery and endured physical therapy for over a year to ultimately gain the ability to walk again.
After treatment, in 1971 Olivencia was honorably discharged, but did not receive the Purple Heart he earned for his sacrifice. More than 40 years later, a local article profiled the veteran. Casimiro D. Rodriguez reached out to Higgins' office to request assistance with obtaining the medals for his friend.
For his commendable sacrifice and courage during his military service, Olivencia was presented with the Purple Heart. Created in 1782 by Gen. George Washington and then known as the Badge of Military Merit, it was implemented to honor those who demonstrated "meritorious action." Renamed the Purple Heart Medal, the award is granted to servicemembers injured as a result of enemy action.
In addition, Olivencia received the Army Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with double bronze star attachment, the Combat Infantryman Badge 1st Award, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Ribbon with device, and the Sharpshooter Badge with auto-rifle bar and rifle bar.
Higgins presented Olivencia with well-deserved and long-overdue recognition for his heroic service during the 46th annual Grease Pole Festival in Buffalo. Olivencia's family is active in organizing the weekend-long ethnic tradition, which includes a carnival, music, food and the trademark grease pole competition.
Proceeds from the festival benefit the Olivencia Community Center on Swan Street in Buffalo.
Wilmer Olivencia is pictured in orange. His cousin, SGT First Class John Acevedo (Ret.), joined Congressman Brian Higgins in presenting the medals.