Beaufort News

A badge that bonds: Purple Heart recipients honored

A special bond spanning several generations and armed conflicts unites the more than 1 million recipients of the nation's oldest military honor.

Area veterans and active-duty Marines and sailors paused Monday at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island to honor that bond and observe Purple Heart Recognition Day, a day created to "remember and recognize those people willing to serve our country, no matter the price," according to the National Chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

Parris Island is home to the Purple Heart Memorial, a 5-foot slab of black granite that bears the image of the medal, along with an excerpt from James Babbington Macaulay's poem "Horatius." The monument was dedicated in August 2008, and sits along Boulevard de France near the depot's parade deck.

Glenn Blackburn of Beaufort, who received the Purple Heart in 1971 for injuries he suffered during the Vietnam War, said wearing the medal reminds him of those soldiers who were given the honor posthumously.

"Those of us who made it wear the Purple Heart for those who did not," Blackburn said. "I just think about the others and wonder, 'Why was I so lucky?'"

The Purple Heart was created by Gen. George Washington in 1782 as the "Badge of Military Merit." Though never officially abolished, the medal was not awarded again until 1932 under President Herbert Hoover, who bestowed the honor upon Gen. Douglas MacArthur and more than 150,000 soldiers wounded or killed in combat during World War I.

To date, more than 1.7 million American service members have received the Purple Heart, according to the National Chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

Notable Purple Heart recipients include author Kurt Vonnegut, film director Oliver Stone, President John F. Kennedy and U.S. Sens. John Kerry, D-Ma., and John McCain, R-Ariz.

Shot twice in the arm during a tour in Korea in 1950, Mack Parsons of Beaufort said recipients of the medal feel a kinship for one another, having hed blood in the defense of the nation.

"We have a certain camaraderie," Parsons said. "We have all had all sorts of experiences but so many people were killed. I was one of the lucky ones."