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A Pretty Medal but a Pain in the Ass to Get – The Purple Heart Medal

US History
US History
July 31, 2023
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Originally issued as the Medal of Merit for courage under fire, the Purple Heart medal has been awarded in its current form to service members injured or killed while in conflict with the enemy since April 1917. A great many of the stories involving Purple Hearts are unfortunate or tragic… And some, given the positive outcomes, are bloody damn ridiculous. Here are two unique stories of troops surviving to tell the tale of their worst day in service.

In Iraq, 2007, a young Sergeant (who asked to remain anonymous) was touring post, which means going from one guard tower to the next to check on his Marines to ensure they were conducting themselves correctly and keeping the perimeter safe. This was routine, something each Sergeant of the Guard would do several times each shift. One night, the Sergeant goes onto a post, climbing the ladder only to find the Marine was on his hands and knees feeling the floor. Given that the younger Marine’s job was to keep an eye on the perimeter, not the floor, the Sergeant began chewing the young private out. Upon being asked for an explanation, the Private stated that he had dropped a piece of the radio and was trying to find it. He didn’t want to use a light in case the enemy was looking, so he was trying to find it by feel.

This of course made the Sergeant angrier, so he pulled out a flashlight, turned it on, and began yelling about how the enemy wouldn’t be able to make that kind of a shot… but never finished as a bullet struck him full on in the back of the helmet. Before you get upset, the Marine is fine. It rung his bell, to be sure, but to this day he respects light discipline a whole lot more.

During a patrol in Afghanistan around 2011, a group of higher ups decided to tour the battlespace to see what kind of issues were occurring firsthand. Usually these are what the military refers to as “dog and pony shows” meant more to entertain the leadership for a short period than to accomplish a useful goal. This group included a brash older Warrant Officer who apparently wanted to ensure that his peers and subordinates knew he was tough, and so he disregarded most common-sense infantry practices of the time. He wandered from the path cleared of explosives, talked loudly to people to get their attention instead of paying attention to his surroundings, and generally made an ass of himself. 

These issues culminated in the Gunner stating loudly that he was going to put in a large pinch of tobacco into his lip, because “we always get in a good fight when I do.” The can came out, he pinched a chunk, raised it to his open mouth… And a bullet streaked through his cheek. It’s a tender area, and bleeds easily and a lot. Confusion reigned for a short period while medics responded.

Again, in the end the Gunner was fine. The scar is no bigger than a pea sized slight discoloration… And the knowledge that humility can be a virtue.

It is important as leaders and peers to always look out for our service members. We can guide, assist, mentor, and train. But we must also remember that we are all, in the end, mortal.

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