KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A Silver Star presentation ceremony for U.S. Army Specialist Four Gerald McGinnis at Park West Church in Knoxville Saturday.

“I am humbled and sincerely thankful for this honor today and I truly do not deserve it,” said McGinnis at the podium after accepting the award.

U.S. Army, Specialist McGinnis was assigned to Company C in the 3rd Battalion of the 8th Infantry Regiment during the Vietnam War. In the early morning hours of March 22, 1968, his base was attacked by approximately 1,500 North Vietnamese Army soldiers.

Many American soldiers were either critically injured or killed that day.

“Once you serve in combat, they’re your brothers for life,” said McGinnis.

McGinnis defended his men for the remainder of the battle, preventing the North Vietnamese from overrunning the base in the process.

However, when he returned to the states he said, “I came home in ’68 but suppressed it for this many years.”

He added, “when I came home I was real, real wild.”

He said he turned to drugs and alcohol to suppress what happened overseas, but one moment turned his life around.

“I thought, ‘I survived a war and I’m going to end up dead here on the streets in Knoxville’ and this guy told me about Jesus and my life changed.”

He started Park West Church in Knoxville in 1980 and now his son, Jeremy McGinnis is the lead pastor.

“He has been a great leader,” said Pastor Jeremy. “I have watched him lead this church with integrity and character and passion.”

It’s those characteristics that his fellow soldiers also saw in him that earned him this Silver Star 40 years later.

His son said, “to see these men express their heart and be as proud of him as they possibly could be, I say thank you.”

He added, “my dad is my idol, my hero, and I’m so proud of him and honored to see him in our church receive the Silver Star award.”

“It is awarded for gallantry in action,” said another veteran at the podium. “It’s awarded while engaged in action against an enemy of the united states,”

He added, “it is absolutely the ultimate award for combat operations.”

McGinnis said he received this Silver star award for the men who couldn’t.

“I accept this on their behalf for them and many others that deserved it and never got any recognition.” He went on to say, “I think it brings some closure for all of those who didn’t make it that day.” 

This is not the only medal he’s received for his service. In 2016, Specialist McGinnis was awarded the Bronze Star for his brave actions in Vietnam.