Eugene Lang was born in Soviet-occupied Hungary in 1947. Lang had a difficult childhood. His parents were Holocaust survivors, and Lang’s mother died when he was six. In 1956, Lang was nine years old when his family was able to immigrate to the United States and eventually settled in New York City.
Lang struggled in school because he did not know English. However, he gradually taught himself the language. When he turned 18, he became a U.S. citizen. In 1967, Lang was working at New York Telephone, which is now Verizon, and going to college at night. One day, he got the news the Army drafted him.
After basic training, Lang went to Germany. He was only there for three months, when he got orders for deployment to Vietnam. Lang was assigned to D Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry. He was there just over a month, when his unit got assigned to Operation Pegasus, which was a maneuver to assist the Marines in the Battle of Khe Sanh. On May 9, 1968, Lang was nearing the top of a hill. He faced incoming rounds and was shot in the leg. At the base, the doctor removed the shrapnel from Lang’s leg. He was not given antibiotics and was told to return to the battlefield. Because Lang did not receive adequate medical care, his leg got infected and took two months to heal. Lang was in many more firefights before his tour ended in March 1969.
Upon Lang’s return home, like many Vietnam Veterans, he faced hostility and anger from those who opposed the war. He decided to hide that he fought in the war. He went back to college and returned to his job at New York Telephone. Despite being wounded in Vietnam, he was never awarded a Purple Heart because his records were lost. It was not until 1990, more than 20 years after his service, that he decided to pursue the Purple Heart he felt he deserved. He made little progress with the Army as well as local and state legislators.
Then, he met retired Col. Donald Singer, through a friend. In 2012, with help from Singer and New York’s Senator Chuck Schumer, Lang received his Purple Heart after 44 years. In 2015, New York State inducted him into the Veteran’s Hall of Fame. Lang no longer hides that he is a Vietnam Veteran. Instead, he has become an active advocate for Veterans in his community and speaks at local schools about his experience in the service.
Lang reached the rank of sergeant and earned numerous medals including a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and five Air Medals.
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