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VETERANS DAY: Navy vet fought military red tape to receive medals — and won
Retired Navy Petty Officer Craig Petraszewsky of Covington speaks during the Saturday, Aug. 15, event in Conyers. - photo by Special to The Covington News

COVINGTON, Ga. — A Covington man helped evacuate remaining Americans and other allies from South Vietnam as the fall of the country to North Vietnam was imminent in 1975.

As a result, the then-18-year-old Navy sailor from Plymouth, Michigan, was owed and received the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for his role in the heroic effort called Operations Frequent Wind.

But years after leaving the Navy, Craig Petraszewsky sought some VA medical benefits in 2015 and found he needed a specific commendation to get them, he said.

After some years of trying and being given a runaround, Petraszewsky ended up calling his senator — who just happened to be a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The effort left the maintenance engineer with the Vietnam Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon and Meritorious Unit Commendation Ribbon.

Petraszewsky began his work to receive the medals he needed in 2015. He applied for it and sent the information to an office in Arlington, Virginia, which turned out to be the wrong office, he said.

His application ended up in Millington, Tennessee, where it sat for months, he said.

After six months, he reapplied ... then again for a total of three times in three years, he said.

Petraszewsky said he considered giving up before a friend advised him to call his congressman. He ended up contacting U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga. — who just happened to be a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

After four months, the senator’s staff secured the medals for Petraszewsky, he said.

Petraszewsky said the effort to contact Perdue’s office and receive the medals was “pretty satisfying, especially during a pandemic.”

“Having been in the military, I know how long these things can take,” he said.

Perdue awarded Petraszewsky the medals during an August ceremony at a Veterans of Foreign War post in Conyers.

“Georgia’s veterans are truly American heroes. It is my highest honor to be in Conyers today to recognize Petty Officer Petraszewsky’s service to our nation,” Perdue said during the ceremony.

“After dealing with the nightmare that is government bureaucracy for more than three years, Petty Officer Petraszewsky contacted our office to help him obtain the Navy medals he bravely earned in battle during the Vietnam War. My team got to work right away to ensure these awards were rightfully received,” he said.

After a career which included work as a police officer in Tennessee, Petraszewsky now works as a maintenance engineer.

He also owns a company in Covington he opened in 2013 which produces hot sauce from the peppers he grows in his own yard.

Petreaux’s Gourmet Hot Sauce offers a variety of sauces — including one he is developing from a cross-pollinated pepper he believes may be the hottest pepper ever grown.