All across the country Americans celebrated Purple Heart Day Wednesday, and Norman residents and veterans were no exception.
Hundreds of veterans and Normanites turned out for the ceremony held at 1 p.m. by the Military Order of the Purple Heart Ch. 902, also known as The Forgot to Duck Club, in the Norman Veterans Center to honor veterans and supporters. The Purple Heart is a combat decoration awarded to members of the armed forces who were wounded or killed in action.
During the ceremony 18 Purple Heart recipients were honored, and some served in the Vietnam War, World War II and Korean War. The recipients included David Hartley, Willie Easton, Gary Monks, Darryl Eaton, William Hatch, James Ohlheiser, Donald Underwood, Monroe Harjo, Dale Kinslow, Arthur Levine, Paul Wilson, Delbert Gullett, Billy Price, Millard Wallace, Lewis Jackson, Charles Norris, Robert Hutchcraft and Paul Hatley.
Monks served in the Vietnam War from 1970-71, and said he is honored to be a Purple Heart recipient.
“I’m so proud of my country and how they have repaid me back,” Monks said. “I would go back and do this again for my country.”
The ceremony began with the presentation of the colors from the Oklahoma National Guard and Susan Porter, volunteer and singer for The Norman Veterans Center sang throughout including the National Anthem and a performance of a song she wrote for her relatives who served titled, “My Stars with Stripes.”
Shane Faulkner, public information officer for the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs led the ceremony and announced the recipients. He began the ceremony mentioning the creation of the badge of military merit in 1782 by General George Washington and the conversion to the Purple Heart in 1932 by General Douglas MacArthur, the first recipient of the modern day Purple Heart.
“While an accurate and complete list of names [of Purple Heart recipients] no longer exists, National Geographic did recently do a study and they estimated nearly 9.1 million Purple Hearts have been awarded since the creation,” Faulker said during the ceremony. “We are more than honored to be surrounded by so many recipients on this special day.”
The first set of awards went to supporters and leaders of the Veterans Center such as coordinators, founders, cooks and other supporters. Among them were Mitch Reed Angie Greg, Vanessa Morgan, Jeannene Wade, Rob Harrington and Faulkner.
Mitch Reed was recognized with the supporters and leaders as the coordinator for Purple Heart Cities. He has two Purple Hearts from serving in Vietnam from 1968-69, and said he’s honored to be recognized as the coordinator for Purple Heart Cities.
“We love [the celebrations for Purple Heart Day],” Reed said. “It’s something to get out and meet all of our veterans, and that means a lot to us to get out to The Veteran Center and meet our Purple Heart Veterans.”
Wade recognized Jesse Newell, who has been a volunteer at The Norman Veterans Center for three years taking free photos of Veterans Center residents for their families. Newell, who also owns Bird Nest Baby Photography in Shawnee, said she was honored and amazed by the unexpected award, and plans to continue to teach Oklahoma the history of these veterans through her photography.
Several legislators and representatives were also in attendance and were recognized as plank owners alongside supporters of the bill, for the passage of the bill that has made Oklahoma a Purple Heart State. Governor Kevin Stitt signed the bill in May, and signs are going up around Oklahoma’s roads and highways declaring Oklahoma a Purple Heart State.
Faulkner said plank owners is an award given to the christening crew of any ship in the Navy, and since Oklahoma recently became a Purple Heart state this award seemed fitting for those involved. He said soon visitors visiting Oklahoma will see the signs that declare Oklahoma as a Purple Heart state and he couldn’t be more proud of that.
Rep. Tommy Hardin was the House Author for Senator Frank Simpson’s bill and said Oklahoma becoming a Purple Heart State is long overdue, and should’ve been done a long time ago. He said when the bill was signed someone asked Purple Heart veterans how they received their combat decorations, and he said some of them couldn’t put it into words.
“That was real touching to me to see them try to put it into words and couldn’t,” Hardin said. “Even though it’s been years since they’ve been in battle, they still carry those scars.”
The ceremony concluded with the recognition of the 18 Purple Heart recipients, and the 145 Army Sextet performing the service medley where each veteran in attendance stood up during their service song to be recognized.