For his service to his country in the Vietnam War, retired U.S. Coast Guard officer Gilbert “Frenchy” Benoit received many awards, among them a Purple Heart and a Vietnam Service Medal with two Bronze Stars.
But like many other veterans of that war, he did not receive a hero’s welcome when he returned home.
Benoit, who lives in Plano, on Monday received a free 2020 Nissan compact cargo van, donated by Wells Fargo in partnership with Courtesy Nissan of Richardson through the Military Warriors Support Foundation Transportation4Heroes program.
His public thank you was long overdue: 52 years and 29 days, to be exact, WFAA-TV (Channel 8) reported.
“Even though we busted our asses, nobody should have to go through the crap that we went through when we came back,” Benoit told the TV station.
Benoit arrived to receive his new van wearing a black leather jacket with a large U.S. flag across the back and the letters “USA,” TV footage showed.
During an operation with other U.S. Coast Guard crew near Cambodia during the Vietnam War, his small boat was ambushed and Benoit was injured by an AK-47 round that shattered his left hip. He endured years of rehabilitation, six hip replacements and ultimately an infection that cost Benoit both of his legs about 10 years ago, WFAA-TV reported.
His new white van will feature hand controls and a lift to get his wheelchair into the vehicle.
Benoit grew up in Louisiana and joined the Coast Guard in 1965, according to a biography provided by organizers. By 1968, he was deployed to Vietnam and served as an Officer of the Deck on the Point Banks.