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NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) –  A Kemp, Texas resident worries time may be running out for recognition of wounds he received in Vietnam.

Lawrence Snell believes those wounds and the way he got them make him eligible for the Purple Heart. But Snell has been turned down for decades.

He remembers Vietnam’s Demilitarized Zone in mid-February 1967. His Army artillery unit was laying down cover fire for Marines while at the same time taking mortar fire from the enemy. Then he loaded a new 105mm shell into his Howitzer. “It was the very first round when I opened it. When I twisted the cap, it exploded,” Snell told CBS 11 News.

His arms still bear scars from the blast. “And on my hands there’s still some black marks where the powder went into my hands from the explosion.” Two buddies were wounded, one losing an eye. In the heat of battle it was called an ordnance accident. Later, he says the shell was found to have been sabotaged. He has a letter from a former commander to back up his assertion.

Snell says part of the “jungle pack” ordnance was missing. “They (saboteurs) had a hand grenade attached to the top and when I twisted it, it physically pulled the pin on the grenade. And then of course in a few seconds, ‘boom!’” he recalled. “It was a booby-trapped round. No doubt about it.”

But the Army apparently doubted it. Repeatedly since 1981 he has petitioned the Army and elected officials to help him receive a Purple Heart. And each time the answer has been “no.”

The incident is an important part of Snell’s life. Besides having a dummy of the shell that blew up in his face his battery mates also made a 3-D model replica of his firing position in Vietnam. And there are scores of banners and photos.

He says the Purple Heart denial weighs heavily on four generations of the Snell family.

“Justice, finally for him. Justice for him,” wife Brenda tells CBS 11 News. “Something that he can honestly say–I know he deserves, he knows he deserves it, and he’s got it.”

Snell worries time for Vietnam vets is running short. The buddy that lost the eye recently died. “We’re getting pretty close. The life expectancy (of Vietnam vets) is 65. I’m 68.”

But for now — that award remains frustratingly out of his reach.

The U.S. Army tells CBS-11 News there is an appeals process for Purple Heart decisions but cannot go into this specific case due to privacy considerations.

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