CONYERS — On April 28-29 1975, the USS Midway aircraft carrier and other U.S. Navy ships took part in the largest helicopter evacuation in history, carrying U.S. personnel and South Vietnamese refugees to safety as North Vietnamese troops pushed into Saigon. A total of 1,373 Americans and over 5,600 South Vietnamese nationals were successfully airlifted during Operation Frequent Wind, with the Midway receiving 3,073 evacuees.
Petty Officer 3rd Class (Ret.) Craig Petrazewsky, who now lives with his wife in Covington, was a young sailor on the Midway and took part not only in the helicopter evacuation, but played a major role in saving the lives of 90 refugees on a sinking boat. On duty that night, Petrazewsky spotted the sinking vessel, and with his shipmates, was able to rescue all 90 refugees on the boat before it sank.
Petrazewsky and his shipmates were nominated for numerous awards and medals for their heroics, but like many military personnel in Vietnam, he never received his awards. That changed on Saturday, Aug. 15, when Georgia Sen. David Perdue, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, presented Petrazewsky with his medals and commendation ribbons during a ceremony at VFW Post 5290 in Conyers, where Petrazewsky is a member.
Perdue said when he and his office receive calls from veterans who did not receive awards they earned at the risk of their lives, they take those calls very seriously.
"When we get an opportunity like this, it is all hands on deck, to say the least,” Perdue said. "I’m humbled to be here to honor Petty Officer Craig Petraszewsky and his wife, Pattie.
"The definition of hero is pretty broad in America, but this is what sets us apart from any other country in the world,” Perdue continued. "My wife Bonnie and I have lived in Asia and Europe a couple of times, and we’ve seen what makes America different. It is right here, you men and women who serve in our armed services.
"Craig served our country as a U.S. Navy sailor and later as a public police officer. No one understands the price of freedom better than you who have served in uniform. Most of us in this room know somebody who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Perdue presented Petrazewsky the Vietnam Service Medal, the Humanitarian Service Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon, and the Meritorious Unit Commendation Ribbon. Petrazewsky’s wife pinned the ribbons and medals on him.
Afterwards, Perdue noted that his service and awards will be something Petrazewsky can pass on to his children and grandchildren.
"His descendants will know of this day and what he did for this country, and I hope they’ll appreciate it the way we all do here,” Perdue said. "If we ever take this for granted, we do this man, and his wife and family, and you all, a total disservice. God bless you all. These are not just awards on a uniform, they are a representation of what makes America great.”
Petrazewsky thanked everyone who was involved in getting his medals.
"This is something I’ve been trying to do for a long time,” he said. "I got frustrated, so I turned to the person I knew could probably take care of business, and he did. I wasn’t wrong making that decision to call Sen. Perdue’s office.”
Originally from Michigan, Petrazewsky served in the Navy from 1974-1978. He moved south with his family in 1984 and ended up staying. Petrazewsky served as a police officer in Tennessee and Alabama for 20 years, then moved to Covington and began another career in machine maintenance.
He said while the medals may not mean a lot to a lot of people, they mean a lot to him and his family.
"This is something I can put in a display case and pass down to my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, because I’ve got three of those now,” he said. "It is kind of a legacy thing now.
"Two of my sons served, one in the Navy, and one in the Army over in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is 100% disabled, but he and his family are doing fine.”
When asked what other veterans who want their awards should do, Petrazewsky said, "Don’t give up. Contact your congressman, contact your senator, because with their titles and positions, they can get things done. That’s what you’ve got to do.”