I am a civilian living in a “military town”, considering the number of Army and Air Force bases in and around Colorado Springs. The contemporary Air Force Academy campus (USAFA) to the west is the dead giveaway, but the Army’s Fort Carson to the south is larger in terms of acreage and personnel. Fort Carson is also the largest employer of any kind in this part of the state. Then there’s Peterson Air Force Base to the east (co-located with our municipal airport), Schriever Air Force Base to the slightly-further east, and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station hiding in the foothills to the west (which may or may not have missiles pointed towards North Korea).
All this presence-of-the-defense in Colorado Springs prompts the question whenever I purchase: “military or civilian?”. You get a deserved discount if you are the former. I am the latter so I pay full price. Safe to say I will also never be awarded the Purple Heart.
This past Monday (August 7th) was “Purple Heart Day” – on the list of U.S. Holidays and Observances – honoring the date the award was created in 1782. The Purple Heart was not given between 1783 and 1931 – the span of time between the Revolutionary War and World War I – so it has “only” been awarded a total of 86 years since the days of George Washington. That still amounts to countless acts of valor (over 1.8 million by some estimates).
I have the utmost respect for the men and women in uniform, so I am awed by those who receive the Purple Heart. “Those” includes my father-in-law, who served and was injured in the Korean War back in the early 1950’s. “Those” include various notables, including Kurt Vonnegut, Pat Tillman, Rod Serling, and Norman Schwarzkopf. “Those” include Curry T. Haynes, who died less than a month ago. Haynes served in the Army in the Vietnam War and received a total of ten Purple Hearts for the injuries he suffered. That’s more decorations than any other recipient.
Ponder for a moment: Over a million Purple Hearts were awarded during WWI alone. Another 350,000 were awarded during the Vietnam War. All in defense of freedom.
Because decorations were not always documented (Purple Hearts were often awarded on the spot; even attached to the hospital beds of recipients), there is no accurate total. Instead, the Military Order of the Purple Heart commemorated a network of roads, highways, and bridges in the states of Purple Heart recipients. Whenever you see a sign like the one above, be reminded of the high (and frequent) price paid for your freedom.
Between 1942 and 1997, civilians serving in the armed forces were eligible to receive the Purple Heart. Nine firefighters in the Honolulu Fire Department were decorated during the attack on Pearl Harbor. After 1997, Congress passed legislation limiting awards to men and women in uniform. Civilians now receive the Defense of Freedom Medal for similar sacrifices.
Sergeant Reckless photo – by Andrew Geer
Animals are also eligible for the Purple Heart. The most impressive: the decorated war horse Reckless, a thoroughbred mix rescued from the race track and trained by members of the Marine Corps. Reckless served in the Korean War, frequently carrying supplies and ammunition to the front line. Remarkably, Reckless memorized her routes so she could deliver unattended. During one battle, she made 51 trips in a single day between supply depot and front line. Reckless was wounded twice and thus received two Purple Hearts. She was promoted to the rank of sergeant shortly after the war ended. A plaque and photo of Reckless can be seen at the Marine Corp base Camp Pendleton in California.
As I began with, I’m a civilian living in a military town. I am surrounded by my Colorado peers who serve or have served in the armed forces. I may not be one of them, but at least I can tip my hat on the streets, especially to those who wear the Purple Heart.
Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.