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4 Powerful Stories of Purple Heart Recipients

AUGUST 7, 2017 | 6-minute read

The Purple Heart award, a distinguished recognition given to members of the military who have been wounded or killed while serving, is a powerful reminder of the sacrifice of our Nation’s Servicemembers and Veterans.

Purple Heart Day, on Aug. 7, is a time to reflect on the service of these recipients. During the last six years, the Make the Connection campaign has had the privilege of interviewing multiple Purple Heart recipients. According to the Purple Heart Foundation, there have been nearly 2 million medals awarded.

Here are their stories.

“I’m only here because a young Navy corpsman showed amazing courage under fire and saved my life.”

Justin, a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran and Reservist, was on what he calls a routine combat patrol in Iraq when he was suddenly hit behind his left ear by sniper fire. He went down immediately. “In fact, other Marines around me thought I was dead,” he says. “I’m only here because a young Navy corpsman showed amazing courage under fire and saved my life.”

Next thing Justin remembers is waking up in a hospital bed in Bethesda, Maryland. Even though he’d just survived a life-threatening injury, his mind was back in Iraq with his fellow soldiers. “I had incredible survivor’s guilt,” he says. “I was a team leader. I was responsible for eight Marines. And I felt terrible that I was back in America and they were in Iraq.

The physical and mental recovery from the near-death experience was trying. But the support of his wife Dahlia and VA counselors helped him find healthy ways to cope. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Dahlia says. “But if we kept thinking forward and thinking ahead, it would help us get through.”

Hear Justin’s story.

“There was no where to run. No where to hide. The shells were raining down on us.”

13 months. That’s how long Rich, a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran, served in Vietnam.

One day, whistles of mortar rounds filled the air, quickly followed by explosions, and then more incoming rounds. Rich was hit, and it’s a haunting memory that’s stuck with him to this day. “I saw so many of my buddies that were hit real bad,” he says. “A couple were dead. It’s a sight that I don’t ever care to see again.”

The emotional and physical wounds of the war took a toll on Rich when he returned home. He found himself easily irritated, and it impacted his relationship with his wife and two kids. He had never heard of PTSD until he reached out to the local VA.

“The psychiatrist explained to me what PTSD was,” says Rich. “I had a lot of the symptoms, such as night sweats, heavy nightmares, waking up in the middle of the night.”

Rich started going to group therapy and instantly felt a connection — and it made a difference in his relationships. “The biggest part of the group therapy was the comradery,” he says. “Forming a friendship, a bond, with all the other members of the group.”

Hear Rich describe how he found support from his fellow Veterans.

“They showed me that, ‘Hey, you’re OK. You’re not alone.’”

As a Marine, Frank worked his way up from tank crewman to tank commander, and eventually section leader. He deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times during his eight years of service. “I got used to deploying,” he says.

But it was his last deployment that left an indelible mark. “I saw more tragedy, more IEDs,” he says. “One injury after another.”

Frank was emotionless when he returned home, and those around him noticed he was a different man. He went to a psychologist and a psychiatrist. Frank calls the experience “the best time [he's] ever had to help [him] get through.”

Listen as he describes his experience in a combat zone and how professional support helped him overcome painful memories.

“Reality sunk in extremely fast that this was a very dangerous place.” 

Bryan joined the Army when he was 18 to see the world. He didn’t think he’d be deployed to a combat zone — then the Iraq War started. “I wasn’t ready for it,” he says. “The first five days we were there I had one of my friends get killed. Reality sunk in extremely fast that this was a very dangerous place.”

Bryan says he “miraculously” made it through his deployment. But before it was over, the danger caught up to him. “One bullet went in the back of my leg, by my calf,” he says.

When he returned stateside, the Purple Heart recipient was buoyed by the support of his family and friends. “You ride this wave of emotions for a few months,” Bryan says.

“And then after a little while it starts to go away,” he says. “You’re just left like, ‘What am I going to do with my life now?’”

Hear how Bryan was able to overcome his physical and emotional wounds.


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