Northwest Scots Honor Guard

Interview with Walter Sacha

An interview with Walter Sacha, member of the Northwest Scots Honor Guard
August 19, 2023—Scottish Highland Games. Albany, Oregon.

Leslie Ann Akin: Hi, everyone. I’m here with Walter Sacha, a member of the Northwest Scots Honor Guard. You had an experience to share about a connection you made with a Vietnam veteran in Albany. Walter, please tell us about an interaction with a Vietnam veteran.

Walter Sacha: Our group, the Northwest Scots Honor Guard, hosted a booth at the Scottish Highlands Games, in Albany, Oregon. Our current mission is to present the Bronze Eagle Medal to as many Vietnam Veterans as possible before 2024 and 2025. The Department of Defense minted the Bronze Eagle Medal in 2012, to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War. The government is not minting these medals any longer, but we have some medals to present to veterans. On this day, we presented many medals, but one was remarkable.

When someone walks by our booth, if they’re about the right age bracket to receive the medal, we ask, “Did you serve in the military?” And this man said, “Yes, I served in the military.” I asked, “Have you received your Bronze Eagle medal yet?” He said, “I’m not interested.” I replied, “Okay, well, you’re certainly entitled to it, in case you change your mind.” He left and came by our booth two or three times after that. We talked a little each time, but he was adamant that he did not want the medal. Still, we had nice, friendly conversations.

After about two hours of him coming through, then disappearing, he showed up again, saying, “You know, I’ve been thinking. Whatever it is, this award you’re giving might be beneficial for my wife. What exactly is it?” And I said, “Here, I’ll show you.” I stepped toward him with the medal and the pamphlet and a document that explains the reason for the Bronze Eagle Medal. I explained, “It’s from the Office of the President, not this president, but from the office. It’s very official, and he’s earned it, and it’s his if he would like to have it.”

The veteran asked, “What, what do I have to do to get the medal?” I stated, “All you need to do is let me present it to you.” So I shook and held his hand, and presented the Bronze Eagle Medal. I explained the reason for the medal, thanked him for his service, on behalf of the Office of the President, the Senate, the Congress, and especially the American people. I offered an apology for any mistreatment he may have suffered upon returning to the U.S. He thanked me profusely and shook my hand several times, then walked away.

When he got about five feet away, he stopped and looked at the medal. He pondered over it for a moment and walked further. He stopped and looked at it again. I watched him for another 120  yards. He stopped every few feet and looked at the medal. Several of the Northwest Scots Honor Guard witnessed these moments. We wondered, “What is he thinking right now?” He was deep in thought, and we’ll never know. That’s part of presenting the medal—the thought that I touched someone so deeply, it felt like I broke through the ice and maybe helped him.

It was pretty hard because at the end he started to tear up. Yeah, a lot of Vietnam Veterans just bawl…yeah, break down and hug, and thank us. It feels superb. This is the gift and an honor of being a part of the Northwest Scots Honor Guard. We get to touch lives in a meaningful way.

Leslie Ann Akin: Yes, it’s the current mission of this Northwest Scots Honor Guard to present these medals, and to get them out as quickly as we can to all the surviving U.S. military Veterans of the Vietnam era.

Walter Sacha: Exactly. I explain to them; it doesn’t matter if they were in Japan handing out doughnuts as long as you served in the U.S. military anytime between 1955-1975. You know, you might get that call at 4am that you’re going to Vietnam. And you will. So you might say, “Well, I didn’t deserve it.” They were in the service and available to do their assigned job, so they certainly earned the Bronze Eagle Medal.

Leslie Ann Akin: Thank you so much, Walter, for making that beautiful presentation, and for impacting the veteran who wasn’t quite ready to receive it earlier in the day.

Walter Sacha: It’s an honor beyond description to be a member of the Northwest Scots Honor Guard. I could never doubt our mission for a moment because I’ve seen lives change. I’ve seen the demeanor of some pretty gruff characters just melt away and become appreciative and thankful. And that makes it all worth it.