August 7th is recognized as Purple Heart Day. A day when we remember the military who were wounded in the service of our country. Over 1.8 million Purple Hearts have been given out over the years since this special decoration was instated, and it is estimated that over 1 million of them were given out during World War Two. This is an enormous number.
A few years ago I wrote about two specific Purple Heart recipients… but today I thought instead of recounting one story, I’d highlight a couple of Purple Heart veterans we have had the honor of knowing.
Fiske Hanley’s B-29 was shot down in March of 1945. He was captured by the Japanese and held as a “Special War Criminal," during which time he was brutally tortured by the Japanese secret police, otherwise known as the Kempei Tai.
Dan McBride received 3 Purple Heart's during WWII. The first one came not too long after D-Day. On patrol one night, a soldier came up to him speaking German. "I pulled up my rifle, and he pulled up his. We both shot, and we both hit — but I hit more." Mr. McBride escaped with a wounded arm. The next one would be in Holland after he was blown off a dyke by mortar shells, crushing his ankle. "The medic stuck a needle through my boot. I had to walk out of there, and I could hear the bones grinding." His third Purple Heart came in Bastogne when he was hit in the knees from tank shrapnel. He would take part in four of the major battles in Europe: Normandy, Holland, Bastogne, and Southern Germany.
USMC PFC, Jim Skinner, was wounded by a grenade while excavating a cave during the fighting on Guam in 1944. He recovered just in time to participate in the Battle of Iwo Jima. For years and years afterwords he suffered with great bitterness and anger towards the Japanese. In March of 2015, he returned to Iwo Jima for the first time since the fighting. During his trip there he was able to find forgiveness to his former enemies, even so far as shaking hands with one of them. He passed away a few months later.
USMC Sgt. John Coltrane was wounded in the arm by a piece of shrapnel during the Battle of Midway. However he never received a Purple Heart for this as his senior officer and Corpsman were both wounded or killed.
Birney "Chick" Havey served in the Army during the Battle of the Bulge. Besides a Purple Heart, he also received the Silver Star (3rd highest military award) and numerous Bronze Stars. A few months later he would be one of the first men to liberate the horrendous concentration Camp Dachau.
Darroll "Lefty" Lee (centre of picture) was wounded on February 28, 1945, during the battle of Iwo Jima “There were five of us in this group, a fire team, we were moving up… and we were running across an open area. I don’t know if it was a Jap rocket or if it was an artillery shell, never heard it of course. It landed and the thing that saved me was that sand — it landed and it buried itself… into the sand, and when it exploded it blew me up into the air. I think I was blown 20 to 30 feet — I don’t even remember. Of the five, three were killed and two of us were blown into the air. I remember I was bleeding from the nose, mouth, and ears and couldn’t hear, couldn’t hear a thing. When I came to I was just peppered with little slivers — like the corpsman said when we got back to Saipan, we thought they were freckles. Didn’t get it in the eyes, just amazing, but the concussion knocked out my hearing. When they hauled me back then I remembered the corpsman, what a guy, he crawled up there and pulled me back into a hole and all I can remember is his name, Harris, his name on his dungarees. I often wonder if he ever made it.”
Lee Cason nearly lost his life on Utah Beach, June 6, 1944, when his leg tangled in the landing craft's ramp chain. Then he nearly drowned as he waded to shore under heavy fire from the Germans. And again as he made his way up the beachhead. But it wasn't until a few months later that he received his first of two Purple Hearts during the Battle of the Bulge.
Bataan Death March survivor and Japanese Prisoner of War, Col. Ben Skardon certainly has a lot of history behind his Purple Heart. During the Battle of Bataan he inspired his men greatly, and at 100 years old, he his still continuing to inspire.
Charming Stanley Zemont tried to downplay his Purple Heart, "It's not much. Just a wound I received from shrapnel during the Battle of the Bulge."
Two magnificent Marines: Al Pagoaga and Bill Madden. Life-long friends, they came out of the fighting on Iwo Jima with indelible memories and permanent external scars. Bill Madden was buried alive by a grenade blast, only surviving when his friend, Al, dug him out just in time. Besides shrapnel wounds, he went completely deaf for 24 hours afterwords. A few days later, Al Pagoaga was hit by a mortar blast that killed three of his friends and left him missing part of a leg.
All these men (and so many more that we have not mentioned), have paid a price to serve our country: for the rest of their lives they will carry personal scars - badges of honor - reminding them what it takes to keep a country free. We are deeply grateful to them.