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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 27, 2010

Three Purple Hearts: Prastio honored for three tours in Vietnam

By Zach Simeone

John Prastio, a former Hilltowner, will be honored this Memorial Day for his three tours in Vietnam, for which he received three Purple Hearts.

“It wasn’t politics you were fighting for; it was for each other,” Prastio said, taking a drag on a cigarette as light poured into the kitchen of his second-floor apartment in Troy. “And it’s the same thing going on today.”

Prastio recently got a letter in the mail from Congressman Paul Tonko, informing him that a flag would be flown over the nation’s Capitol in his honor.

He grew up in Queens and on Long Island, and later moved to the Hilltowns, living in Berne from 1979 to 1995. He still keeps in touch with Hilltowners, sometimes through participation in the Adirondack Shelby Mustang Club.

For Prastio, who turned 66 last weekend, military service runs in the family. His father was aboard the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga during World War II when it was hit by a kamikaze pilot. His brother served in the Korean conflict.

Prastio himself served on the USS Princeton during his first two tours in Vietnam, and on the USS Tripoli during his third. The Princeton, with its wooden flight decks, was “shabby” when compared to the Tripoli, which had concrete flight decks and air-conditioning.

In an almost empty room adjacent to his kitchen, Prastio has made a memorial to his family’s military history, with framed black-and-white pictures of relatives, and clusters of medals as symbols of bravery.

“American troops, I would classify them as the best in the world, because everybody’s a free agent,” he said. “You don’t need a general; you don’t need a colonel; you don’t need a captain to tell you what to do. You know what your job is, and you fight to the last man. The lowliest private carries on.”

He likens the bond between soldiers of his day to the brotherhood among the American soldiers currently serving in the Middle East. But, when Prastio returned from Vietnam, he did not receive as warm a welcome as today’s soldiers get.

“Most troops, you could not wear your uniform when you came back to the States, because of protests,” Prastio said. “You couldn’t get a job. I got hired and fired four or five different times as soon as they found out I was a Vietnam veteran.”

Upon returning home for the last time, he took daily trips on the Long Island Railroad to the Veterans’ Administration in Manhattan, where he sometimes waited eight hours to get help finding work, but to no avail.

But for each tour, he was awarded a Purple Heart, given to soldiers who are wounded in battle, and he and his fellow soldiers will be honored again this Memorial Day.

“Guys ask, ‘Why’d you go back?’” said Prastio. “You’ve got a job that’s unfinished. Your buddies are there. You’re going back for them.”

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