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Purple Heart monument to be dedicated at HAFB

Published August 2, 2004 1:54 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

John Cole of Roy was awarded a Purple Heart with two gold stars for the bullet that tore through his right arm, shrapnel wounds to his back and legs and severe frostbite on his hands and feet he suffered during the 1950 battle of the Chosin Reservoir in Korea.

Francis "Bill" Gurnee of South Ogden received his Purple Heart for the razor-sharp shrapnel wounds that peppered his body in the 1966 assault on Tan Son Nhut Air Base outside the South Vietnam capital of Saigon.

On Saturday at noon, the men will be part of a ceremony dedicating a Purple Heart monument they hope will list all Utahns who were casualties of war. The dedication will be at the Hill Air Force Base chapel near the museum, located off Exit 341 on Interstate 15 in Roy.

So far, the Utah monument has only a Purple Heart insignia. Military personnel, friends and descendants are asked to submit names of Purple Heart recipients to Cole, 3750 Midland Dive No. 159, Roy, UT 84067.

All that is needed for a name to be inscribed on the monument is a copy of the military DD Form 214, which verifies that the veteran had received a Purple Heart. The form may be obtained from veterans themselves or by visiting http://www.archives.gov/facilities/mo/st louis.html.

Saturday's dedication comes on the same date as when, in 1782, Gen. George Washington issued an order establishing the Honorary Badge of Distinction or the Decoration of the Purple Heart.

Only three of the hand-sewn medals were awarded.

It was not until the 200th celebration of Washington's birth in 1932 that the Revolutionary War award was rediscovered. Congress reinstituted the award, which was to be struck from metal, made in the shape of a purple heart with the bust of Washington in the center, topped by his coat-of-arms, believed to be the source for the stars and stripes on the American flag.

Eligibility for the medal was retroactive: World War I soldiers or their descendants who could prove the veteran had been wounded or killed in combat were awarded the medal.

President Kennedy authorized medals to be given out to U.S. civilians wounded or killed while serving under a military command and President Reagan made the award available to military casualties from terrorist attacks.

Cole earned his medal in 1950 when 20,000 outnumbered and surrounded allied troops fought their way through 78 miles of icy mountain passes to waiting ships off the Korean coast. He credits the minus-30-degree temperature as saving him from bleeding to death from his wounds. But the reoccurring pain from the long-ago frostbite continually plagues the former Marine corporal.

"I had planned on making the military a career, but Korea changed that," he says. "Now, some days I'm not sure if I'm going to make it, but somehow I keep getting by."

Gurnee said a wound like his from combat in Vietnam "makes you grow up real fast. You're different. Changed."

He and Cole are members of the Northern Utah Chapter 995 of the Military Order of The Purple Heart. The state has two additional groups, the Southern Utah Chapter 802, commanded by Collice Blair, of Mesquite, Nev., and the Central Utah Chapter 756, headed by Eric Gardner, of Herriman.

The Purple Heart groups in all states are erecting monuments to American war casualties. New members are welcome, but veterans need only to be awarded a Purple Heart for their names to be inscribed on the monuments.

In April, Utah veterans organized a state department of the Military Order of The Purple Heart, electing Thomas Rogers, of West Point, as the first department commander. Rogers, who enlisted as an Army private and retired as a colonel, was awarded a Purple Heart for taking 12 pieces of shrapnel in his back when a mortar round went off in a battle near the North Vietnam border.

Some of the newest members of the order are six Utah Marine Reservists from Fox Company, headquartered in Salt Lake City, for wounds they received in last year's U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The Marines were wounded in the battle for Baghdad.

"We are expecting more members as troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan," said Rogers. "As a gesture of friendship, we're waving membership fees for the first year they're in our organization."

Like other military organizations, the chapters fight for hospital care and other benefits for wounded veterans.

In honor of all wounded veterans, state lawmakers have designated Interstate 80 across Utah as the Purple Heart Trail. The road crosses the Veteran's Highway, Interstate 15, in the center of Salt Lake City, which marks this crossing as the heart of the veterans' community.

Lawmakers also ordered the Utah Department of Transportation to designate the highway as the Purple Heart Trail on all future state highway maps.