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Patriotic Article
Heroes and Patriots
By Van E. Harl

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(April 15, 2010)

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“Some shrapnel in my knee” was Earl McClung's reply when I asked him if he was wounded in combat. Former SSgt McClung of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the now famous Band of Brothers book and HBO mini series was wounded in Holland when a German 88 artillery round exploded in close proximity of the young paratrooper.

For his injury in combat he was awarded the Purple Heart medal. In his case it was almost an after thought on the part of the US Army. SSgt McClung wiped off the blood, took care of the wound himself and got back to the war at hand.

He had jumped into Normandy on the 6th of June 1944, D-Day and fought through to the end of


Van E. Harl
Van E. Harl

the war, to include the Battle of the Bulge, suffering only that one wound. He was extremely lucky. Many Purple Heart recipients to include his friends and fellow soldiers of the 101st Airborne received their medals posthumously.
The Colonel, my wife sent me to the Post Office to get some stamps: it was 5 April 2010. 5 Apr 1917, the day before the US entered World War I, is the official retroactive wear date for modern recipients of the Purple Heart medal I just asked for a couple of books of stamps and I was handed copies of the now fifth issue, of the Purple Heart stamp first released in May of 2003.

The first thing I thought of as I looked at the stamps in my hand was SSgt McClung and Airman First Class Elizabeth Jacobson USAF. I met SSgt McClung but I never met A1C Jacobson. Elizabeth was killed on 28 September 2005 in Iraq. She was the first Air Force female and the first Air Force Security Forces “cop” killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Like SSgt McClung she too was awarded the Purple Heart medal. Her family has her Purple Heart along with her other awards and decorations received in her short time in the military and in her defense of our country.

General George Washington was the originator of the first Purple Heart. It was called the Badge of Military Merit and was made of purple cloth in the shape of a heart. Only three were issued in the Revolutionary War and then the award was mostly forgotten about. The concept was reconsidered between WWI and WWII and made retroactive for all wounded in WWI.

After the Vietnam War you did not see many new recipients of the medal until 1984 when the wounded from terrorist attacks were authorized the award of the Purple Heart. I remember meeting a young Air Force Staff Sergeant in 2000 that had a Purple Heart ribbon on his uniform, something you did not see everyday in the Air Force. He had been in Khobar, Saudi Arabia in 1996 when terrorists exploded a truck in the housing complex and 17 Americans were killed in what became know as the Khobar Towers bombing. Hundreds were wounded to include the Staff Sergeant. Crew members of the USS Cole who were wounded or killed when that ship was attacked in what was suppose to be a friendly nation's harbor received the Purple Heart.

Sometimes I do not understand the military and their ways. Captain Tamara Long-Archuleta USAF was killed in Afghanistan when the rescue helicopter she was co-piloting, crashed in the desert while making a mercy flight to assist two injured Afghan children. The entire crew was lost in a nation we were fighting a war in, but she was denied a Purple Heart. Again I do not understand. Her family and the Girl Scouts keep her memory alive at Rescue Rock in the Jemez Mountains outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The US took serious the prediction of a million causalities in the invasion of Japan during WWII, because they had 500,000 Purple Hearts manufactured. There are still almost 120,000 of those medals left. If you are a 2010 recipient of a Purple Heart that medal you were awarded was made in 1944. The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor is the registry for Purple Heart recipients and wants to locate and record the history of the men and women who were wounded or killed in the defense of our Nation and were so honored with a Purple Heart.

But the Purple Heart stamp is what got me started on this column. Now in its fifth release because Americans truly like this stamp and use it to remember our wounded and dead service members. Mail this stamp with your next letter, it is an honorable act.

By Van E. Harl
Copyright 2007

About Author:
Major Van E. Harl, USAF Ret., was a career police officer in the U.S. Air Force. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. Major Harl is a graduate of the U.S. Army Infantry School, the Air Force Squadron Officer School and the Air Command and Staff College. After retiring from the Air Force he was a state police officer in Nevada.

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