Martin Belman, Jr. left Eldorado in January of 1965, bound for the U.S. Marine Corps and the jungles of Vietnam. He was wounded in action there on May 12, 1968 when he suffered a concussion and shrapnel wounds to his shoulder during an early morning mortar attack.

Unfortunately, a record-keeping mistake prevented Belman from receiving the Purple Heart that was due him. It took 53 years, four months and 18 days, as well as the help of a U.S. Congressman, and a direct order from the Commandant of the Marine Corps, to correct the error.

Belman is the son of Martin and Prudencia Belman of Eldorado. He attended school here but left before graduation, although he obtained a GED and attended Angelo State University following his military service.

Belman says he weighed only 108 lbs when he joined the United States Marine Corps at age 17. He went through basic training at San Diego, California before being deployed to Vietnam. He reached the rank of Sergeant before leaving active service.

On May 4, 1968, as a member of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment of the 2st Marine Division, then Lance Corporal Belman and his fellow Marines took part in an offensive against the enemy stronghold of Go Noi island, east of the populated area of An Hoa, southwest of Da Nang. Their mission was to search for, locate, and destroy all enemy forces, fortifications, supplies and armaments in the area. It was the beginning of what would become known as Operation Allen Brook.

Eight days later, On May 12, 1968, Company E was attacked by a superior force consisting of elements of the Republic of North Vietnamese People’s Army and Viet Cong insurgents. During the action, the Marines suffered 53 casualties including dead and wounded. In addition, an M48 tank was destroyed, killing the tank crew, and two other tanks, disabled in an earlier action, were further damaged.

Battle reports indicated that not all wounded Marines could be evacuated due to the tactical situation in the area. Thee wounded who could continue in the battle, even in a limited capacity, did so in order to repel the enemy advance. Belman was among those.

“There were many who were in much worse shape than I was so I stayed in the fight,” Belman says.

He didn’t realize how seriously he was wounded until the next morning when he began bleeding from his ear. Still, Belman remained with his company of Marines until they were withdrawn form the line of battle.

Recording those killed and wounded during a battle is never easy, especially while remaining under enemy fire for days. Complicating matters was the fact that Company E headquarters was located some distance away and communications was limited. Consequently, the names of some Marines wounded on May 12, 1968, including Belman’s, were not recorded in Company E documents.

Operation Allen Brook continued through August 24, 1968. It ended with 172 Marines killed, 1,124 wounded. Enemy losses totaled 997 killed, an unknown number of wounded and 11 enemy combatants captured.

The Purple Heart medal is awarded to military service members who are killed or wounded in action against an enemy of the United States of America. It was created by General George Washington and awarded to members of the Continental Army during the American Revolution.

Belman did not receive the Purple Heart he rightfully earned during Operation Allen Brook, due to missing records. His effort to claim the medal was aided by U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar and R. Graninger of the Department of the Navy’s Records Research and Restoration Section.

On September 28, 2021, Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Aaron Wilhelmsen, acting on the order of General David H. Berger, Commandant of the Marine Crops, presented 75-year-old Belman with the Purple Heart he had earned some 53 years earlier.

Belman received numerous decorations during his military career. In addition to the Purple Heart, Belman received a Combat Action Ribbon (Vietnam), Presidential Unit Citation (Vietnam), Meritorious Unit Commendation with one Bronze Star, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with three bronze campaign stars, Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation (civil action color with palm and frame) Ribbon Bar, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with 1960 Device and a Rifle Marksman Badge.