Lost Purple Heart Awards Reunited With Recipients’ Families on National Purple Heart Day

The Purple Heart is a very special U.S. military award with a fascinating history. I’ll tell you about some of that history in a moment.

But first, I want to let you know about a great non-profit organization. They reunite families with Purple Heart awards that have been lost through the years.

In fact, Purple Hearts Reunited held a ceremony earlier today to reunite eight families with lost Purple Heart medals. In honor of it being National Purple Heart Day.

The emotional ceremony was held in the Kennedy Caucus Room of the Russell Senate Building in Washington, D.C.

Niece of WWII Vet Given His Purple Heart

Many of the Purple Heart recipients whose medals have been returned to family members served in World Wars I and II. Others served in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Like Ruben Keltch from New York City. He was on the USS Plymouth, a gunner boat torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1943. He perished in the attack, but not before helping a number of his fellow sailors evacuate.

Somehow his Purple Heart was lost through the decades. But Vermont resident Jeff Kaufman recently found it and returned the award through Purple Hearts Reunited.

Accepting the medal was Keltch’s 84-year-old niece, Florinne Keltch Abramowitz. She was 8 years old when her uncle died. To continue their celebration of the occasion, Kaufman and Abramowitz took in a Yankees-Mets game together.

Her Dad Is Her ‘Greatest Hero’

And then there are Mark Gilesse, James Namath Jr. and Clayton Richard. Each was wounded or died during World War II.

Lost Purple Hearts earned by this trio were returned to family members, all of whom live in Michigan. That’s thanks to Purple Hearts Reunited, which paid for the medals on eBay and other sources.

During the ceremony honoring the three soldiers, speakers read the stories of these men who served their country so faithfully.

Sarah Corey, who attended the ceremony, is executive director of the organization. She is the daughter of a Vietnam veteran and a two-time Purple Heart recipient.

Corey said, “My dad still is to this day my greatest hero. So I personally know the meaning behind these medals and what it means for families to get them back.”

Veteran Finally Gets Purple Heart at 95

Other heartwarming stories come from soldiers who finally received Purple Heart awards late in life.

Such as Kentucky resident Dudley Riley. The 95-year-old World War II veteran and POW was recently asked to give a speech at a Chamber of Commerce meeting.

Instead, he was taken to a hall at the Kentucky Veterans Center where he now lives. There he was surprised by a presentation of his long overdue Purple Heart award.

“I had no idea,” Riley said. “I’ve waited a long time for it. This Purple Heart means more to me than anything else.”

George Washington Started It All

The Purple Heart award itself actually began as the Badge of Military Merit. General George Washington created it in 1782.

And today marks the fifth anniversary of National Purple Heart Day. It’s also called Purple Heart Day, Purple Heart Recognition Day and Purple Heart Appreciation Day.

The day is designated as a solemn occasion for Americans to pause to remember the brave men and women who were either wounded on the battlefield or paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives.

Evolution of the Purple Heart

In 1932, the Purple Heart award was officially created. That was in honor of the bicentennial of Washington’s birth.

It was originally intended only for those in the Army or the Army Air Corps. But in 1942, an order from President Franklin D. Roosevelt opened up the award to all branches of the U.S. military.

During World War II, the Purple Heart changed from an award for meritorious service to one honoring those who were wounded or killed in combat.

Since, then, the definition has become somewhat broader. It is now given to persons who are injured or wounded. Or who died while a prisoner of war.

The Color Purple

Why is the Purple Heart award purple? For one, the original Badge of Military Merit was purple.

Some believe it’s because the color represents the blood of all those who made sacrifices in war.

Traditionally, the color has represented the courage of those who serve.

It is estimated that about 1 million Purple Hearts have been awarded through the decades. About 45,000 recipients have joined the Military Order of the Purple Heart, which was formed in 1932.

How People Observe National Purple Heart Day

Here are some of the ways that people observe National Purple Heart Day:

  • States, counties and cities pause in recognition of the service and sacrifice of their local sons and daughters.
  • Major League Baseball teams pay homage to their local Purple Heart recipients during special pre-game and seventh-inning stretch ceremonies.
  • Veteran and military organizations hold remembrance meetings for fallen heroes and special events to thank soldiers, veterans and Purple Heart recipients.
  • The Purple Heart Foundation, the fundraising arm of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, recommends donating time and money to the foundation. Or to other organizations working with Purple Heart recipients.
  • People take time to listen to soldiers and veterans, learning about their life stories and military service.
  • American flags are flown at homes and businesses.

I’m glad National Purple Heart Day exists. It’s a great way to remember those who gave up their freedoms so that we could enjoy ours today.

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