Purple Heart Day in the United States is celebrated on Aug. 7.
The Purple Heart Medal is awarded under the most adversarial of circumstances. Many recipients are never presented with their award as their next of kin receives it posthumously because the individual honoree was killed in action. Other members of the Armed Forces awarded the Purple Heart are those wounded in action.
U.S. Marines were brutally killed and savagely wounded under my watch. Their grotesquely mangled bodies were beyond anything I had ever experienced. Those surviving the initial impact of their wounds agonized in anticipation of being Medivacked.
Aggressively engaging an enemy requires well-trained and skilled combatants willing to advance and expose themselves to enemy fire. Moving forward against these threats requires courage, valor and steadfastness.
Seeking to secure a Purple Heart license plate in Florida, I was told by a staffer from then-Gov. Lawton Chiles’ office that “combat-wounded veterans” should not be recognized with a specialized license plate because it was their mistakes during battle that got themselves wounded or killed.
Because of their carelessness, they were not deserving of a specialized Purple Heart tag. And if a plate were to be developed for this category of veteran, it should be termed the “Mistake Plate.”
The rationale behind this staffer’s logic was exposed and widely publicized. After a 10-year fight for this license plate, the idiocy of his statements rapidly ushered passage of this legislation in 1992. Monroe County’s then-venerated state Rep. Ron Saunders was instrumental in finalizing this bill into law.
My family is marked by three successive generations of Purple Heart recipients.
The blood offerings and sacrifices made by members of our armed forces must never be pointlessly taken for granted. It’s imperative that our civilian leaders are held accountable and answerable to the families of those slaughtered in combat. Resolving differences can be negotiated diplomatically. Killing isn’t always required.
Purple Heart insignia’s displayed on apparel, license plates and postage stamps memorialize and distinguish the sacrifices. They commemorate the forgotten combatant’s silent and unacknowledged voice, stifled by the horror and battlefield wounds they’ve endured.
John Donnelly, Key Largo