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Takoma Park Member Awarded Long Overdue Bronze Star Medal

Story by Taashi Rowe/Visitor
Published 11/14/12

Defense Information School Commandant Army Col. Jeremy Martin (left) looks on after U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski presents Charles Shyab with the Bronze Star medal for valor during a formal ceremony. Photo courtesy of Joseph Joynt/U.S. Department of Defense.

Last Friday Charlie “Doc” Shyab, a member of Potomac Conference’s Takoma Park (Md.) church, received the Bronze Star medal in a ceremony at Fort Meade in Maryland. Because of misplaced paperwork, the award was overdue by 44 years. It seemed only fitting that he would receive this recognition only a few days before the Veteran’s Day holiday.
Shyab’s Bronze Star for valor was authorized in 1968 after he saved many American soldiers’ lives and was wounded on Chu Moor Mountain in Vietnam near the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Thirty men were killed in action during that firefight, Shyab said, another 70 were wounded and 15 were evacuated off the mountain. He doesn’t recall how many lives he saved that day. “The men we lost will always be remembered,” he said during the ceremony.
“About an hour before I was hit, I read from my Bible, and had [done] some meditation,” recalled Shyab, who served as a medic. “Then I prayed to the Lord. I said, ‘I can’t save myself. I’m not going to live through this unless You protect, me, Lord. If you see fit, I will turn my life over to you and become a teacher.”

When he got out of the foxhole, Shyab heard an explosion, felt his arm go numb and thought it was gone for good. When he looked down, the arm was still there. Shyab said the soldier who got him safely to a helicopter for evacuation never made it back to his foxhole. Shyab was wounded in both arms and legs and was taken to a hospital in Japan. When he got out, he had less than a year to serve and worked in the emergency room at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.
After he completed his degree in education from then Columbia Union College (now Washington Adventist University) in Takoma Park, Md., Shyab made good on his promise to the Lord in that foxhole and in 1970 began his teaching career. He taught in Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Virginia.
“Being in Vietnam helped me keep order in my classroom and taught me empathy,” he said. “I became a witness too. I still have that Bible that I had in Vietnam with my blood on it and a piece of shrapnel. I’ve brought it to the classroom and talked about God’s love and protection.”
He even shared with his students an Adventist Review article written about him in the early 1990s and took several classes on a trip to the memorial in Washington, D.C. He retired in 2008 after teaching for 16 years at John Nevins Andrews School in Takoma Park.
The company Shyab served with has regular reunions. They often marvel that Shyab, who served as a conscientious objector, never carried a weapon. He received a Purple Heart in the 1960s. At one reunion in 2010 he ran into Bill French, one of his commanding officers, who remembered him clearly. He had recommended the young medic for an award in 1968 and was dismayed to hear Shyab never got his medal. This time around, French contacted the former battalion commander and Barbara Mikulski, a U.S. senator from Maryland, who spoke at the ceremony on Friday. And at long last, Shyab got his medal, which he says he shares with those he served with.
“Every day to me is a gift and [an opportunity] for me to do the Lord’s will and be a witness,” he says. “Serving in Vietnam has made my life better, so I’m just so thankful every day.”
At the ceremony Sen. Mikulski said, “We honor them and in honoring them we honor all who have served our nation in the United States military.”
Alan DeSilva, pastor of the Takoma Park church, said it was a privilege for him to be present at the ceremony. “I’ve known Charlie for 16 years. He’s a very outstanding Christian,” he said. “I was impressed by the speech he gave and how he testified about the Lord. He’s a prime example of the priesthood of all believers.”
Karnik Doukmetzian, general counsel for the worldwide Adventist Church and a friend of Shyab’s, said, “Recognition of his heroism as a medic [is] significant, especially as a reminder in this day and age when war has been glorified and our young people choose to enlist for combat rather than choose to request conscientious objectors status. Charlie has, over the years since his military service, continued to serve his fellow man and countless students, with the same commitment he showed during his service to his country.”
Click here to see a video news report from the ceremony.
Terri Moon Cronk of the American Forces Press Service contributed to this story.

Charles Shyab and his convoy get ready to move during the Vietnam War.

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