A Coronado family received the Silver Star in a ceremony at Camp Pendleton Tuesday in honor of a U.S. Marine killed in action more than 50 years ago.
On April 24, 1967, First Lieutenant Philip Sauer gave his life in an attempt to save the lives of four other Marines during combat in Vietnam.
"Today really epitomizes all that he was in our family and for the military, he is our hero,” said his sister Mary Schoelch.
She and brothers Nick, Tom and Coulter accepted the Silver Star from Major General Eric M. Smith, Commanding General of 1st Marine Division in a special ceremony.
The Silver Star Medal is the third highest personal decoration for valor in combat against an enemy and is awarded for "gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.”
Sauer was on patrol on Hill 861 with four other Marines to get a better look at the dangerous Keh Sahn caves. Suddenly, the Marines were ambushed by at least 30 enemy fighters.
Bill Marks was one of those Marines. He said Sauer told the others to fall back and that he would provide cover.
“If it wasn’t for him I probably would’ve been still there," he said.
Marks was the only survivor and went on to earn a Purple Heart in another battle. And he joined Sauer's family and friends at Camp Pendleton to see Sauer awarded for his actions.
Nick Sauer said it was in his younger brother’s blood to save lives. He rescued injured animals as a child and even steered him to safety on the family’s boat during a terrible storm.
“He just had so much courage it was unbelievable,” Nick Sauer said.
But the complete recognition of his brother's courage on that April day in Vietnam might never have happened, if not for another Marine.
Retired Marine Lt. Col Dan Little met another of the Sauer brothers, Tom, while swimming off La Jolla Cove. Sauer shared his brother’s story and Little quietly went to work finding the veterans in the chain or command and getting the necessary documentation for the Silver Star Medal.
“This man took two and a half years and he didn't tell us,” said Nick Sauer.
That is until the effort was nearly complete and Sauer was to be recognized at Camp Pendleton.
“This medal truly validates that and it's something that we will cherish for generations and generations to come,” said his sister Mary Schoelch.
In addition to the Silver Star Medal, Sauer has already been recognized with the Purple Heart for his actions.