Jacinto Acebal was honored as the most decorated Cuban-American soldier of the Vietnam War. The distinction: 18 medals during his tour of duty from 1964 to 1965.
He was 23 when he was sent to Vietnam as a military adviser — six years after emigrating to Miami from Havana in 1958. When he returned, however, he faced a hostile homecoming, fueled by anti-war protests.
“I’d been insulted, called a baby-killer, a criminal. To my face. Here in Miami. If I was supposed to be a bad guy, I wasn’t interested in the medals,” Acebal told the Miami Herald in 1983.
Acebal, who died Wednesday at 75 after a two-year battle with cancer, had a conversion when he visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington in 1983.
He was moved. People, after all, did care. And suddenly, at age 41, so did he. With a vengeance.
He contacted then-Rep. Claude Pepper, the legendary Democratic South Florida congressman. A congressional aide determined that Acebal, a machine gunner and helicopter crew chief, had earned the most medals during 544 hours of combat missions.