Key West’s Vietnamese vet finally gets Purple Heart

Alvin Lawrence Alce was surrounded by family, from his wife and grown children to his 10-month-old grandson, as an Army general pinned the Purple Heart to his shirt this week.

The Vietnam veteran earned the honor in Vietnam more than half a century ago.

Born and raised in Key West, Arce was wounded at the Battle of Hamburg Hill. It was a 3,000-foot mountain because the number of people who lost their lives there in about 10 days in May 1969 was tragic.

Arce was drafted into the army a year ago. He is 18 years old.

“It was raining every day and the fighting was fierce,” said Arce, 72. “It was tough.”

Bullets are relentless.

“Like a bee chasing you,” he said.

The grenades would land near U.S. soldiers, Arce said, and they would pick them up and throw them back at the enemy.

On August 8, 2022, retired Army General William B. Mason III pinned the Purple Heart on the chest of Vietnam Veteran Alvin Alce in Key West. Kristen Livengood Monroe County Government

“All you can do is keep pushing,” the veteran said of the battle in a brief interview Monday at the Harvey Center for Government in Key West.

On Monday, Alce had to talk to the people chatting around him, right after the awards ceremony, in a ceremony of color guards, bugle calls and speeches.

Attendees included senior military members, Key West Mayor Terry Johnston, Monroe County Mayor David Rice, County Executive Holly Rashen and Key West City Commissioner Clayton Lopez.

“So proud of you,” Lopez told Arce, shaking hands. “But I always have been.”

From May 18, 1969, Ars has three battle scars on his body – one on his back, one on his hip and one on his left arm.

He was one of 372 Americans injured in Hamburg Hill, 72 of whom died.

As he greeted friends, elected officials, veterans and other well-wishers on Monday, Arce offered to show people the scars on his back and arms several times. He would slightly lift the tail of the light blue guayabera’s shirt to show where the gunshot hit.

On Monday, Monroe County officials did not explain why Arles had to wait 53 years to receive the Purple Heart.

In 2019, the county’s Department of Veterans Affairs, led by Chief Cathy Crane and Deputy Chief James Carey, found that Alce lacked the Purple Heart, which they knew he had apparently earned in Vietnam.

Vietnam Veteran Alvin Lawrence Ars, left, of Key West, greets friends and well-wishers after receiving the Purple Heart on August 8, 2022.Gwen Filosa

Alce has received a Vietnam Service Medal with three Bronze Service Stars, a Vietnam Campaign Medal, and the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Viet Nam Unit Medal with the Palm Device.

But the Purple Heart never materialized for Alce, who was honorably discharged on August 1, 1970, serving with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, US Division, and 101st Airborne Division.

The Army has announced that Arce will receive the Purple Heart on March 20, 2020. But that day coincided with the start of the pandemic shutdown.

Alce finally got his medal on Monday.

He didn’t complain.

“It’s beautiful,” Alce said of receiving the Purple Heart. “If I had to do it, I would go again.”

On August 8, 2022, Vietnam veteran Alvin Lawrence Alce of Key West wore the Purple Heart on his chest, the day he was finally awarded the medal after 53 years of combat injuries.Gwen Filosa

More than a dozen family members participated in the Purple Heart ceremony. At the center is Alvin Ars and his wife De Havarina Ars.

Alce did not speak at the ceremony, but his son Justin Alce addressed the crowd.

“At 18, my dad didn’t have time to prepare for what he was going to go through,” Justin Arles said. “Even so, his faith in God and his family got him through every battle he faced.”

Justin Arles said his father’s college experience was a walking point in Vietnam.

“He learned faith there,” Justin Ars said. “Trusted in God through all the trials and tribulations. Even in the pain and suffering, he believed and God watched him get through it.”

Vietnam Veteran Alvin Alce, 72, poses with his wife, Dehavalyna Alce, at the center Aug. 8, 2022, with family on Aug. 8, 2022. Gwen Filosa

Alce and his family are grieving.

Two days before Alce received the Purple Heart, a funeral was held for his daughter Latisha Tiare Alce, 46, who was found beaten to death on July 22 at the Stock Island home she shared with her boyfriend Delmon Washington.

Washington, 44, was arrested the next day and charged with murder. The body was found by a member of the Arce family.

Washington is in the county jail on Stock Island without bail.

“Dad, you’re my favorite person,” Justin Ars said from the podium.

“Thank you,” his father replied from his chair during the ceremony.

Gwen Filosa covers Key West and the Lower Florida Keys for and the Miami Herald, and lives in Key West. She was part of the staff of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, which won two Pulitzer Prizes in 2005 for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina. She is a graduate of Indiana University.


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