VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) -- Forty-four years after he earned it, a former combat helicopter pilot has gone home with the Vietnam War-era medal he never received.

Aaron Rich was shot down on a recovery mission over South Vietnam on March 2, 1968. He was pulled from his helicopter and dragged to an air ambulance.

Rich, of Salem, Ore., was so badly wounded that he never returned to his unit. That slowed the process of awarding him a medal.

His wife, Georgia, worked out a plan to get the medal without alerting Rich: She told him their grandson was working on a project about his Army service.

Georgia submitted his combat records to their Congressional office.

The Vancouver Columbian reports Rich received an Army Air Medal recognizing 692 hours of combat flying on Friday.

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