MERRIMAC — Though he returned home from Vietnam 45 years ago, Bud Domagata continues to serve in a way that helps his fellow veterans.
He does it quietly, without much publicity or fanfare.
However, all that changed as he was honored at a recent ceremony at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, when he joined thousands of active duty and retired veterans as one of the newest members of the Honorable Order of Saint Barbara, the Patron Saint of Artillerymen.
The prestigious Saint Barbara medal, given out to a small handful of service men and women each year, is given by the United States Field Artillery Association.
The USFAA website describes the states the award “recognizes those individuals who have demonstrated the highest standards of integrity and moral character; displayed an outstanding degree of professional competence; served the United States Army or Marine Corps Field Artillery with selflessness; and contributed to the promotion of the Field Artillery in ways that stand out in the eyes of the recipient’s seniors, subordinates and peers alike.”
Bud said he doesn’t know who nominated him, or why.
“I have a secret fan club I don’t know about, and they nominated me a couple years ago,” he said.
This time, however, the award came through.
Bud is from a family of servicemen that included his dad and uncles. He is the only one among them to receive the high honor of a Saint Barbara medal.
Bud’s service to his country didn’t end when he returned from combat, as he has helped veterans for nearly 20 years through the Military Outreach of Greater Chicago organization, a faith-based group that built a network of military-friendly churches in that area.
The organization grew over the years and is now called Military Outreach USA.
The group started after the church they attended would no longer allow a veterans’ support group to be associated with the church.
“We were making a difference in people’s lives,” Bud said. “Everybody knows about (post traumatic stress disorder). About four years ago, another discovery was made. It’s called moral injury. People are raised to be good people and believe in the Ten Commandments and believe in right and wrong. Then they’re put in a war zone and the whole idea of it has gone counter to everything they spent a life developing. There are 22 veterans a day committing suicide. They tie this as much to PTSD as they do moral injury.”
His own church, River Hills Community Church, has an outreach ministry specifically for veterans and military families.
Bud talks about his own military career with humility, and downplays his experience.
Out of high school in the mid-1960s, the Vietnam War was raging and he was soon drafted.
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His uncle, the late Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Bigott, who had 25 years of service in the U.S. Army, advised Bud to sign up for three years instead of two because of the training programs, and he chose a management course in transportation.
He started his military career in a military occupation specialty position inventorying ship freight at the Saigon port.
Then came the Tet Offensive in 1968 and Saigon came under under siege.
Soon afterward, he received orders to return home, but instead chose to enter officer candidate school.
“I got Lieutenant bars and orders for Vietnam again,” Bud said. “Then I went to Panama for a jungle training course. That was probably what saved my life. In Vietnam there are two enemies. One is the jungle. It eliminated one enemy and made it an ally.”
Much of his career was spent as a forward observer, a position that gives coordinates to gunners so artillery rounds could be adjusted.
He later was put in charge of a friendly Vietnamese army unit.
He came home in 1970 and started dating future wfe Holly, who had been a friend of his and written to him in Vietnam while attending Illinois State University.
“When the protesting was popular I just couldn’t go,” Holly said. “I was too close to it. All the girls I knew were writing letters to guy friends in Vietnam.”
But Holly was the only one putting aromatic scents on the envelopes.
Eleven months after their first date, they got married, and now have two grown children, daughter Codi and son Nolan, and have two grandchildren.
After more than 20 years in working for his father-in-law’s sporting goods chain in Chicago, he is now an independent representative for Lifetime Assurance, selling long-term care insurance in the area.
His passion remains with his church and helping veterans who bear the moral injuries of war.
He said he was surprised by the Saint Barbara medal.
“Talking about this is hard,” Bud said. “A lot of veterans do these things quietly and below the radar.”