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Coastal Bend Vietnam Veteran receives award for self-sacrifice, community involvement

These days, Camarillo or 'Airborne' as his friends call him, now serves in a different way.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A Corpus Christi Vietnam Veteran and purple heart recipient is receiving some national recognition and it's all thanks to the Purple Heart Patriot Project.

Each year, the project honors veterans from each state with an all-expenses paid trip to New York.

Veterans made their way down a purple carpet to awaiting high fives and handshakes.

It's the 'welcome home' these purple heart veterans deserve and one that is long overdue for folks like 73-year-old Vietnam vet Lazaro Camarillo.

"Something you are never going to forget," said Camarillo.

Camarillo is back from his trip and spoke with 3 News at the VFW Hall on Ayers Street where he took a look back at the pictures of a young man drafted into the U.S. army in 1968.

Camarillo served as part of the 101st Airborne division in Vietnam when he was hit by a rocket propelled grenade.  the blast struck him under his throat.

"I went to the hospital, had to learn how to walk, how to speak," said Camarillo.

Camarillo received the purple heart for his war injury that almost cost him his life.

However, seeing the way veterans were treated upon his return home.  His service and sacrifice are something he hid from others.

"I didn't tell anybody I was a veteran for 13 years. not even my wife, nobody," said Camarillo.

These days, Camarillo or 'Airborne' as his friends call him, now serves in a different way.  For over 40 years, he has volunteered to help make sure his fellow veterans are treated with respect.

"I volunteer with the VA since 1979, I help everybody else except myself. "

He also continues to support programs that assist homeless veterans and works to ensure veterans can get to the local VA Clinic and Hospital to receive care and needed services. Camarillo is involved with the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 2397 John N. Timon Post, and the United Vietnam Veterans of Texas where he is a past President. Camarillo was recently elected the 2021-22 Texas Department Commander for the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH).

His selfless work over the years is now receiving national recognition. Camarillo was one 50 veterans chosen as this year's Purple Heart Patriot Project honorees.

"We get thousands of nominations, and we bring them for an all-expense paid trip to New York and we like to think it's the best deployment they've ever been on," said Col. Russ Vernon who is the Executive Director of the National Purple Heart Honor Mission.

"These honorees weren't just picked for their war time service, more important to us is what they've been able to do since they've come home, in terms of service to community and service to others," said Vernon.

Camarillo and his family were flown to New York where he got to check out the statue of liberty, West Point, the historic Washington's Headquarters, and even the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor.

The veteran said he will never forget the way they made him feel.

"They pay everything, the trip, meal, hotel, treat you like a king," said Camarillo.

Those wishing to learn more about the National Purple Heart Honor Mission or donate to support the Purple Heart Patriot Project should visit www.PurpleHeartMission.org.

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