Praise and tears flowed freely Friday afternoon, all in the name of the late Vietnam veteran and Lewiston native Paul Kornoely.

David Benge, of Newcastle, Australia, presented Kornoely’s son, Jeremy Kornoely, and stepdaughter, Lori Reynolds, with one of his country’s highest military honors, the Unit Citation for Gallantry, during an afternoon ceremony at Mountain View Funeral Home in the Lewiston Orchards.

Benge doggedly pursued the honor for his former comrade in the Southeast Asian conflict ever since he learned several years ago that Kornoely died in a Snake River boating accident on Christmas Eve 1982.

“It took me by the throat, that one,” Benge told the dozens who gathered for the award ceremony of trying to track down his old friend, only to find out he was gone.

Kornoely was far from forgotten, however. Benge only served for a matter of months with Kornoely as part of the Experimental Military Unit, or EMUs, which consisted of the U.S. Army’s 135th Assault Helicopter Company and the Royal Australian Navy Helicopter Flight. But he impressed Benge with his mechanical ability and relentless work ethic.

The crew chief related one story of rescuing a chopper that had a large hole in one of its rotor blades from enemy fire. Together, they used a clipboard, sweatshirts and strong tape to patch the hole and get it back to base in Dong Tam.

“That was the smoothest-flying helicopter I’ve ever been in, and I should know with 1,600 hours in the air,” Benge said. “It was the Paul and Dave show, and it worked out rather well.”

Benge also read letters from officials in both the Australian and American militaries recognizing Kornoely’s contributions under the most difficult circumstances. Retired Australian Commodore David Farthing wrote of Kornoely’s performance in “primitive conditions of dust and heat in the dry season and mud and heat in the wet season,” calling him a key member of the EMUs.

“These efforts were often directed to downed helicopters anywhere in our operational areas, and Paul would often be the leader of a recovery team operating under enemy fire to either repair the downed aircraft and fly back to base, but also quite commonly, prepare it for lifting by a Chinook heavy lift helicopter,” Farthing said. “This was often the most dangerous evolution, as the recovery team had to stand on top of the helicopter to rig the lifting slings and then attach them to the Chinook. There was no hiding from enemy fire on top of a Huey!”

Retired Lt. Col. Fred Dunaway was the 135th’s commanding officer. In a message to Kornoely’s family, Dunaway called him an integral part of the multinational combat team.

“Not only was he a skilled aviation maintenance specialist, but also was quick to be selected for helicopter door gunner duties because of his reputation as being one of the best,” he said. “It may have taken 50 years, but as stated in the enclosed documents, our comrade Specialist-5 Paul Kornoely’s unit is now part of a legacy which will remain forever in the military history of both nations.”

Benge had to get copies of Kornoely’s discharge papers to verify his eligibility for the citation. Those are only available to next of kin, however, and he didn’t know any of Kornoely’s family. But he met Lewiston resident Jerry Kriegel on a Lake Tahoe cruise boat last year during a reunion of the Vietnam Helicopter Crew Members Association. That eventually led to Jeremy Kornoely, who provided the documentation.

Jeremy Kornoely now lives in the Boise area, and came to Lewiston to accept the citation. He said he was “beyond humbled” by the respects paid to his father, who died when he was 5.

“I guess I didn’t realize how important my dad was,” he said before thanking Benge for making such an effort and traveling so far for his old friend. “It’s an honor. Thank you so much for everything you’ve done.”

Reynolds said she considers Kornoely her father since he raised her from the age of 3. Her eyes welled up as she read over all the kind words provided by his brothers in arms.

“He was a good man,” she said, wiping away a tear. “A really, really good man.”

Mills may be contacted at jmills@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2266.

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