“One of them had an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) and went down on his knee to start aiming it,” Mullins said. “I got him first. Shortly after that the machine gun jammed and I used my M-16 to continue returning fire.”
Another machine gun opened fire on the helicopter, and Mullins threw himself over the wounded men. But backup helicopters began to arrive at that moment, using their own guns to suppress the enemy and allow Mullins and his group to escape.
Official records credit Mullins for downing 10 enemies and saving the lives of Altano and the door gunner.
Altano recommended Mullins for the Silver Star to his commander, Lt. Col. Mark Ponzillo. Mullins never heard anything else about the citation, which would have been his second Silver Star. He continued his career, eventually retiring from the military.
Mullins worked security for various federal government agencies and later for judges in South America. He helped train foreign armies friendly to the United States. He consulted for various companies, helped invent a new type of ammunition and served as the inspiration for the main character in a series of video games called “Soldier of Fortune.”
A few years ago, Mullins ran into Ponzillo, who asked him if he ever got his Silver Star. He hadn't. Mullins told him it wasn't a big deal, but Ponzillo disagreed. He wrote Lucas' office.
The original citation had been lost when some records burned in Vietnam. So the military interviewed those who were involved in the mission and restarted the process.
Mullins said getting the medal after all these years doesn't change how he feels about that day or the rest of his career. But it is an acknowledgment of the sacrifices made by so many in the war, he said.
“I joke that it will probably bring a little bit on eBay when I croak,” Mullins said. “What people should remember, especially now that we are engaged in wars all over the place, is the sacrifices people are making out there to preserve our way of life.”